Sheramy Bundrick’s Sunflowers: A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh – A Review

sunThere is nothing easy about writing historical fiction. Once a writer adds art into the mix, the project becomes something entirely different as many artists, especially those like Vincent Van Gogh are not so easily defined. Furthermore, having the ability to blend factual art historical information with the fiction a writer creates, is difficult and can often produce novels that are more of a creation as opposed to a well-researched, factual backdrop with a fictional story also added for entertainment.

This, however, is not the case with Sheramy Bundrick’s Sunflowers. As an art historian and professor, Bundrick brings to the table a strong set of skills and research that are more than evident in her fictional retelling of the final two years of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh’s troubled life. She recounts with some liberty, the time that the struggling artist spent with a young woman named Rachel – the very same lady that would be presented with a fragment of his ear.

Rachel Corteau

In reality, there is nearly nothing that has survived in history about the real Rachel, other then a document that lists her name, address, occupation and that she was the woman Van Gogh asked for at the brothel to present her with a piece of his ear. Other artists such as Bernard and Gauguin mention Rachel in their writings and letters only in passing, referring to her as the “cafe girl” or “a wretched girl” respectively.

Irregardless of the reality of the factual, historical relationship between Van Gogh and Rachel, Bundrick writes her story having imagined what it might have been like had there been a relationship between the two people while incorporating factual information regarding the time period and Van Gogh’s work.

Mixing Factual with Fantasy

Moreover, Bundrick creates this mixture of fantasy and art historical fact seamlessly. She captivates her readers from the very first page and does not let them go until they reach the inevitable end of both the novel and of Vincent Van Gogh. Her intricate descriptions make her readers feel as though they are part of the dingy cafe where Vincent and Rachel meet to talk, part of the garden where he draws her and even part of the city and busyness of the city of Arles as a whole.

Overall, Sheramy Bundrick’s work is captured best through Susan Vreeland, author of Life Studies, ” [Bundrick] lays bare in rich, compelling scenes the mystery of the turbulent and misunderstood final two years in Van Gogh’s life.” Sunflowers is a gem of a first novel and makes for an interesting glimpse into the mental decline of one of the world’s most famous artists.

Sunflowers – A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh by Sheramy Bundrick is available for purchase through Avon with ISBN 0061765279.

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Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime – A Review

missingKevin Nance of Booklist describes Houpt’s book through the following angle, “when houses like Sotheby’s trumpet their sales records – $104 million for a Picasso! – what’s a self-respecting art thief to do? In this brief and lively book, Houpt laments the transformation of art into an international commodity and sketches a series of quick portraits of famous latter-day art thieves and the intrepid detectives who try to catch them. In a few cases, Houpt has already been outpaced by events. Munch’s The Scream, stolen from a Norwegian museum in 2004, was recently recovered, and the Picasso sales record was eclipsed this year by the sale of a Klimt (once looted by the Nazis) for a reported $135 million.”

The Hypothesis

Auction house pricing has been a big complaint of many in the art world over the years. It is clear that such enormous prices for famous works by such well-knowns as Picasso only drive up the temptation behind nabbing one of these high-priced canvases for claim in a art thief’s private collection. Taking this idea, Houst takes the reader into the dark underbelly of one of the world’s largest markets and shows the reader just how underhanded some of the worst crimes in art have come to be.

From Munch’s The Scream to the Henry Moore Sculpture

Nothing will illicit intrigue more than when a largely famous work of art goes missing. Houpt does not miss a beat of the action in Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime as the author delves into heavy detail over such infamous thefts as the theft of The Scream and the even more bizarre theft of the nearly two-ton bronze sculpture by Henry Moore. Using photographs, illustrations and case studies, Houpt brings these crimes against art to life while still keeping the reader intrigued to learn just how people were able to pull off these brazen acts.

Large-Scale Thefts: From the Nazis to Iraq

What was most intriguing about this book was the coverage that Houpt included on much more large scale operations such as the Nazis’ art theft during World War II and the acts of looting that nearly crumbled the Iraqi Museum and outlaying institutions. If the Rape of Europa piqued your interest, then Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime will take it even another step.

Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime by Simon Houpt is available for purchase with ISBN 1897330448 through Black Walnut/Madison Press.

Book Review: One Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan

parisWhen I was in my early 20’s, I broke up with my high school/college sweetheart and packed up my life for a semester abroad in Paris. I am all about books that take me back to Paris, especially those that are about a newly single woman navigating her new world in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. I was so excited when I received the galley for Sarah Morgan’s One Summer in Paris.

Morgan’s novel focuses around two women from different worlds: Grace and Audrey. Grace is an American who was looking forward to celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband whom she books a trip to Paris for. Only, he really surprises her when he tells her that he wants a divorce. Grace packs up her life and her heartbreak for Paris where she finds herself in an apartment of a bookshop. It is here she meets Audrey, a teenage Londoner, who is also working through her own heartbreak. Audrey with her limited French language skills begins to work in the bookstore and forms an unlikely friendship with Grace. Together, the two become their own sort of family.

Inevitably, David, Grace’s husband, decides that he doesn’t want to be with his mistress, Leesa, and wants to reconcile with Grace. This is where the story lost me a little. He is still sleeping with Leesa, but has decided that he rather be with Grace. I felt like he didn’t suffer enough to make up for his crimes and it was here that I was a bit turned off.

Overall, though, this novel is a light summer kind of read that will make you laugh out loud at the scenes between Grace and Audrey. The premise that landed them both there as well as how a small town part time teacher could afford to buy a summer aboard left me guessing, but if you can get past those plot holes, you will definitely enjoy this quick read about heartbreak, female friendship and the power of moving forward in your life even if your heart is broken.

One Summer in Paris by Sarah Morgan is scheduled for release on April 9, 2019 from Harlequin with ISBN 9781335507549. This review was created after reading an advanced electronic copy of the novel from the publisher.

 

El Greco to Velazquez – A Review

The Spanish court, specifically under the reign of Phillip IIIspain, is a period in art history where the mature El Greco and the young Velazquez flourished.The court of Phillip III “ushered in a time of elaborate celebrations and religious festivals, a major expansion in new building, and an unprecedented rage for art collecting in the Spanish court. Spain’s art became more naturalistic and expressive; the royal portraits are masterpieces of detailed elegance, and the religious figures have reality and solidity new to the genre,” according to the School Library Journal.

Scholarly Essays

In conjunction with the lavish world of Spanish court portraiture, Bass juxtaposes her rich subject matter with scholarly essays written by some of the nation’s leading art historians. Baer (senior curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Schroth (senior curator, Nash Museum, Duke Univ.) lend their extensive knowledge on Spanish portraiture to the catalog with their thought-provoking and well-written essays on the subject. In addition to the inclusion of better-known names such as El Greco and Velazquez, Bass and her contributors also include lesser known artists who lived and worked in the court of Phillip III.

Foundation of the Spanish Style

Through the essays, the reader sees how the naturalistic and dramatic style of paitning would slowly come to define Spanish court portraiture under Phillip III and would go on to lend to the new innovations that would come in the future after El Greco and Velazquez. The history is rich and deep in the Spanish mindset and lends to the reader a fascinating journey of the evolution of court portraiture under each new reign.

Imagery

Bass includes over 170 color plates that are so well-lit and reproduced that the exhibition catalog without the essays would serve as a great way to understand the art of the court of Phillip III with just the imagery alone.

Crucial Artistic Development

As editor Ronni Baer notes in the description of the catalog, Phillip III “actually presided over an era of crucial artistic development in Spain. His reign was a time of cultural and political vitality for the Spanish monarchy, as the king and his court, having successfully maintained a peaceful foreign policy in Europe (the “Pax Hispanica”), ushered in a style of grandeur where fabulous gala celebrations, building campaigns, picture collecting, recreation and travel were the order of the day.

Accordingly, the art of this period flourished, witnessing the birth of a naturalistic style that was variously reflected in a new attention to detail and spatiality in court portraiture, the thriving of still life, the humanizing of saints and the development of polychrome sculpture.” Such a description only teases the reader as to what will unfold while reading Bass’ catalog.

El Greco to Velazquez by Laura Bass is available for purchase through MFA Publications with ISBN 0878467262.

On Carrington – A Life: An Overview of Gretchen Gerzina’s Dora Carrington Biography

carringtonWhen the British painter, Dora Carrington is discussed, the name Lytton Strachey is not too far behind. Carrington was associated with the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of artists who worked near Bloomsbury in London during the first half of the twentieth century. Its famous roster not only included Strachey, but Virginia Woolf as well.

During her lifetime, Carrington was not a well-known artist, and rarely exhibited any of her work. She did, however, work at the Omega workshop for a short time. It would not be until the 1970’s that a renewed interest in her work would begin.

In many ways she was a woman ahead of her time. She bobbed her hair, wore a mix of men and women’s clothing and despite having later married, she kept residence with the love of her life, who just happened to be gay. Either way, Carrington epitomized the Bohemian lifestyle that was very much a taboo during the time in which she lived.

Lytton Strachey

Strachey was a homosexual writer who Carrington falls completely in love with early on in her life. Gerzina heavily documents these feelings in the biography through a reproduction of sketches and letters that were sent between the two. Gerzina’s biography heavily focuses on this relationship more so than Carrington as a painter. Though, such an approach is interesting, it robs from art history as readers have to look towards other sources to learn more about Carrington the painter and not Carrington, the admirer of a homosexual artist.

Marriage to Ralph Partridge and the Affairs

There is no doubt that Partridge loved Carrington as Gerzina depicts their relationship with a sort of glow. Partridge would save Carrington from her first suicide attempt while never forgiving himself for failing to come to her aid in her second, fatal attempt. Gerzina also shows another side of Carrington, the one that often dabbled in lesbian affairs of her own while creating strong attachments and attractions to other artists such as Gerald Brenan.

Portrayal of Carrington, the Painter

Despite Gerzina’s approach to the biography, included are several chapters and photo inserts of and on Carrington’s work that help the reader to better understand Carringon as a painter outside of her absurd and often peculiar relationships with fellow artists.

The Movie

Gerzina’s biography was made into a movie entitled Carrington in 1995 and it stared Emma Thompson.

Another book that discuss Bohemia, Bloomsbury and people from Carrington’s circle is Virginia Nicholson’s Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939.

Carrington: A Life by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina is available through purchase online with ISBN 039331328X through W. W. Norton & Company.

Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century

cubismPrimitivism is an area within art history that is most famously associated with artist Paul Gauguin. He often traveled to tropical areas such as Tahiti where he believed that he was observing primitive cultures that were untouched by the modern world. Largely, this was not the case, but in turn, Gauguin along with many artists who followed, began to paint native people in a basic, unassuming way.

Towards the later half of the 19th century and into the 20th century, artists began to form primitivist artist colonies in Germany and France. The fauvists and German expressionists would later follow.

In Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century, Perry, Frascina and Harrison begin by focusing the beginning of their catalog on the work of the primitivists and then moving into the works of the cubists and abstractionists, thereby creating a thematic and seamless look at the movement of art from and through the 19th and early 20th century.

Dr. Charles Harrison

Harrison was a professor at The Open University in the United Kingdom. He made many contributions to the humanities and more specifically the arts. He passed away in August of 2009. His full obituary is available through the University’s website.

Francis Frascina

Frascina is a is John Raven Professor of Visual Arts in the Department of American Studies at Keele University in the United Kingdom. According to the University’s website Frascina “founded the Department of Visual Arts at Keele University in 1994 and served as Head of Department from January 1994 to October 1998. He formerly held academic posts in Fine Art at Leeds University and in Art History at the Open University. His research interests include the social history of modern art and modernism and the relationships between art, culture and politics in America since 1945.”

Gill Perry

Perry is the co-chair of the Gender in the Humanities Research Group in the Arts Faculty at Open University in the United Kingdom, and was the Reviews Editor of the journal Art History from 1995 – 2001. Along with her accomplishments with in the University, she has also written several books and catalogs. According to the University’s website, she is also a panel member (Panel 2) of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the main UK funding council for academic research.

Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century by Gill Perry, Francis Frascina and Dr. Charles Harrison was first published on May 26, 1993 and is available for purchase through the Yale University Press with ISBN 0300055161.

Forging a Modern Identity: Masters of American Painting Born After 1847 – A Review

identityThere are many books written about modern American painting. Many serve as a general overview of the period and some go into great detail and discussion over a specific artist or movement. What sets James W. Tottis’ catalog apart from other art books such as these is that along with strong, well-researched essays, he has also included high resolution details of larger works that coincide with specifics discussed in the text.

Such an inclusion helps to further engage the reader about the material that is being debated and discussed. It offers readers a different view, a more in-depth vision of the works themselves as well as the period of art history with which they were created in. They truly bring a part of art history to life.

America Forges Its Own Identity

Moreover, looking at the period in general, James W. Tottis has chosen a significantly interesting time to further explore and present. Tottis includes works from the later 19th century and first half of the 20th, a time where America was changing drastically. In art alone, there was a large movement from away traditional landscape and historical narrative paintings. At this time, America itself was forging ahead, creating a new identity and moving towards a modern nation. Artist of the time were creatures of their environment and what was being created was largely based on the study of human form, society figures and everyday scenes.

Laying the Ground Work for the Abstract

From this breaking away from the traditional artists such as Mary Cassatt and Marsden Hartley were laying the ground work for what would inevitably follow in movements to come – abstraction of the human form and a general moving away from it all together.

Tottis does a great service to his readers by including many of the more well-known artists of this transitional period within the American art historical timeline. The text that he includes along with such examples bring to life this period and help readers to begin to make connections to varying art forms and artists who would follow this period.

Overall, James W. Tottis has done an excellent job in editing Forging a Modern Identity – Masters of American Painting Born After 1847. Both seasoned art historians as well as budding art history students would greatly benefit from Tottis’ work.

Forging a Modern Identity – Masters of American Painting Born After 1847 edited by James W. Tottis is available for purchase through D. Giles Ltd. with ISBN 1904832067

Art – Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary

2500Working with a close group of academics and editors, DK Publishing has put together a brief overview of the history of art. Here, in 2,500 color images, readers will find well-known works and details of pieces that have claimed fame in the art historical time-line. It is the sort of book that is suited towards those with an interest for the subject, but who lack time to devote to meticulous hours of study in the area. Not every appreciator of art has years to devote to the study of Art History. DK Publishing has reduced the academic world of the subject into 2,500 images.

From Altamira On

The earliest of cave paintings where uncovered at the turn of the last century in Altamira, Spain where an amateur archaeologist and his young daughter had been exploring. The discovery is often credited more towards the child than the parent. It is here that many introductions to art and its history have begun. Utilizing beautifully rendered pictures of the caves, Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary begun a time-line that draws interested readers in to the world of Art History.

The Major Periods

The books goes on to create reproductions of works that have only begun to greatly influence the contemporary movements. DK Publishing reproduces works that were originally created by more than 700 artists, adding to the time-line that they had begun with the introduction to cave painting. It’s weakness, may fall in its glossing over the more precise periods of art, but for those who peruse the subject more as a fun past time will not be bothered by this as general knowledge and pictorial evidence abounds in these sections.

Where it Differentiates

While the book does gloss over many of Art History’s integral parts, it does go in depth with regards to artist biographies and time-lines. The backgrounds that the book covers as well as its organizational methods are what make it overall. It is here that the book shines in its rendition to the history of art. Along with its simplistic approach to the subject, it is also concise in what it lends to the reader making it a strong source in the arsenal of anyone who wishes to even briefly be associated with art and its history.

What is Most Striking

Outside of the explanations that the book offers are the more in-depth explanations of how these reproductions play into the time-line that so many academics have attributed to the study of art as a history. Overall, Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary is a gem for anyone who wishes to learn more about Art History as a subject as opposed to a simple time-line that is largely overlooked by more contemporary historians that are quick to forget it as a scholarly endeavor.

Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary is available through DK Publishing with ISBN 0756639727.

About Vernon Hyde Minor’s Art History’s History

art historyBudding art historians and those with only a slight interest in the subject should pick up a copy of Art History’s History by Vernon Hyde Minor. It not only creates a brief introduction into the rich and lavish world of Art History, but it also relates to the reader in such a way that it can be considered a book based on the introductory level of Art History. Vernon Hyde Minor simplifies the practice of art and its history to appeal even to the casual reader of the subject.

Vernon has done something that most art historians would view as the impossible – he has taken the entire history of art and condensed into 200 pages. He has done so in such a way that readers are not missing out on any sort of basic introductory information. If anything, such a concise compilation will draw more people into the history of art and help to foster an appreciation for the subject that might have otherwise gone overlooked.

Terminology

In Art History, much of the terminology used can be considered to be a language all its own, if it is not in another language to begin with. The subject is steeped heavily in French and German and those who are not trained in either language may have a hard time adjusting to Art History as a subject. However in his book, Vernon avoids this sort of confusion thereby allowing the history of art to be understood by those who are not classically trained in the subject.

Why is Art History Taught?

Through methodologies and the evolution thereof, Vernon Hyde Minor attempts to explain to his readers not only the importance of Art History, but also why it is being taught, specifically in American classrooms. Unlike its European counterparts, the American people often times overlook the importance of the subject and are quick to dismiss it when their children return home from their first semester of college, announcing their major as Art History. Vernon Hyde Minor tries to debunk that ideal, but displays its importance through his methodology.

Focus on the Famous

Many of the works discussed and highlighted in Vernon’s book are famous works that the general public would be aware of. By doing so, Vernon’s concise and condensed history of art has the potential to draw people in to the subject matter. By the time a reader has completed this book, it is sufficient to say that they would be willing and open to the idea of learning and reading more about the mini-course they just took on the subject.

Vernon Hyde Minor’s Art History’s History is available for purchase through Prentice Hall with ISBN 0130851337.

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art – A Review

stuffedIn contemporary art, there are many questions to be raised as to why works sell and more strangely, how much they sell for. With each new movement, there are a series of new questions brought to the table – is this art? What will people pay to own it? Is there a place for it?

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art takes an in depth approach to such questions that are raised daily within the art world. Drawing on psychology and the economics of the contemporary art world, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark brings to light the flat out insane prices and lengths that people will go to to own the next “big deal.”

Pollock

When Jackson Pollock, for example, was emerging as the face of abstract expressionism, he was doing so at a time where form and training defined art. Had it not been for the help of Peggy Guggenheim and his wife, Lee Krasner, Pollock’s work would have continued to be overlooked. So, why, under what circumstance does his work now sell for a cool $140 million? Answer – A major contemporary art world figure head deemed it worthy. It is just one side of the psychology of the art world and how it feeds the art market’s economic makeup.

Damien Hirst

Following the same sort of mindset, Hirst paid to have the shark caught and then had the two ton carcus taxidermied and mounted, titled it The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and set a $12 million dollar price tag. It didn’t sell, largely in part because of the weight of the piece, but also because unlike Pollock, no art world big-wig proclaimed it as the next big movement. It was eventually purchased by a wealthy investor after much controversy.

A Question Raised

By covering these types of controversial pieces and their buyers, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art makes the reader focus on questions that have plagued the art world, society and the individual ever since the Venus of Willendorf and those questions often have only personal answers. After all, what is art? What defines a creation as a work of art? Who needs to say it is art before it can seriously be considered as such?

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson is available for purchase through Palgrave Macmillan with ISBN 0230610226.