Impressionism: Reflections and Perceptions

Meyer Schapiro, Author George Braziller $50 (359p) ISBN 978-0-8076-1420-4
Transcribed and reworked from 1961 lectures at Indiana University, these chapters show the late Columbia University art historian Schapiro (1904-1996) in genial, but still Olympian form. Rarely in the post-war (or at least post-Kenneth Clark's Landscape into Art) era has a writer revealed such a breadth of interest in art and literary erudition as well. Schapiro, otherwise noted for his studies on medieval, renaissance and modern art, does not shy away from difficult topics like ""Impressionism and Science"" or ""Impressionism and History."" Other chapters examine painterly subjects like ""The Railroad,"" ""The City,"" ""Performers,"" ""Portraiture"" and ""Photography."" In rolling phrases recalling the clarity of an earlier era of English prose, Schapiro makes some surprising observations, such as quoting the poet Cavafy to prove the ""persistence of Impressionist attitudes in the twentieth century."" Schapiro also invokes Dickens, Tolstoy and Dostoyevski and makes an interesting case that Henry James was a more authentically impressionistic writer than was Proust. Finally, the author of Modern Art, shows an understanding of today's average fan of French impressionist paintings who doesn't care much for the detailed study of art, but ""enjoys nature, spectacle, holiday pleasures, and recreation."" Too often what passes today for ""popular"" art history is more truly a forum for overheated self-aggrandizement by writers who bear a disheartening resemblance to failed pro wrestlers. Schapiro's refined focus on the art, not on himself, and his lucid prose style are a genteel, much-welcome blast from the mandarin past. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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