Stravinsky's Lunch

Drusilla Modjeska, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-374-27089-6
British-born Modjeska is a longtime resident of Australia, where she published Poppy, a fictionalized biography of her mother, and The Orchard, a set of philosophico-feminist fictionalized lives that won a host of prizes down under. This book similarly recounts the separate lives of two lesser-known Australian women painters, Stella Bowen (1893-1947) and Grace Cossington Smith (1894-1984), focusing on their domestic arrangements and compromises. Bowen left Australia in 1914, never to returnDinstead painting, bearing a daughter to the married Ford Maddox Ford in London and unabashedly leading a precarious, bohemian life in Europe. A useful overview of the beginnings of modern Australian painting follow Bowen's often desperate story, before Modjeska picks up Smith in her quiet, Turramurra (Northern Australia) spinsterhood, where she painted what was around her. Modjeska seems much more interested in process than product, though she clearly loves the work of both artists, reproduced here in 85 b&w reproductions and 24 pages of color plates. (Readers may be less convinced.) Unfortunately, the lack of analysis is compounded by a glut of spectacularly banal filler, e.g., when Modjeska states, ""The forties are powerful years in a woman's life, but such sweetness as there is, is mixed with the tart taste of time passing."" The title refers to an unrelated anecdote in which Stravinsky, while in the throes of composing a piece, asked his family to be silent at lunchtime: the two very different and difficult domestic lives of these two women artists are the intended contrast, but regardless of the worthy intentions, neither the work nor Modjeska's mysticism make it a compelling one. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
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