Always Looking: Essays on Art by John Updike

By John Updike

In this posthumous selection of John Updike’s artwork writings, a significant other quantity to the acclaimed Just taking a look (1989) and Still Looking (2005), readers are back handled to “remarkably stylish essays” (Newsday) during which “the mental matters of the novelist force the attention from paintings to paintings until eventually a deep realizing of the paintings emerges” (The big apple occasions ebook Review).

continuously having a look opens with “The readability of Things,” the Jefferson Lecture within the Humanities for 2008. the following, in having a look heavily at person works by means of Copley, Homer, Eakins, Norman Rockwell, and others, the writer teases out what's frequently “American” in American paintings. This speak is via fourteen essays, such a lot of them written for The ny overview of Books, on convinced highlights in Western artwork of the final 2 hundred years: the enduring pics of Gilbert Stuart and the elegant landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, the sequence work of Monet and the monotypes of Degas, the richly patterned canvases of Vuillard and the golden extravagances of Klimt, the cryptic triptychs of Beckmann, the non-public graffiti of Miró, the verbal-visual puzzles of Magritte, and the huge Pop of Oldenburg and Lichtenstein. The booklet ends with a attention of contemporary works by means of a residing American grasp, the steely sculptural environments of Richard Serra.

John Updike used to be a gallery-goer of genius. Always Looking is, like every thing else he wrote, a call for participation to seem, to see, to understand the visible global throughout the eyes of a connoisseur.

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The medium of watercolor lightens and loosens his style quite marvellously; in Apple Picking, of 1878, opaque gouache strengthens the sun on the bonnets and skirts, while sunlight presses in yellow dabs, the same size as the red apples, through the lacy screen of trees. Red plays about the girls’ shoulders and their all-but-hidden faces; they are caught in a magic moment instantly freighted with nostalgia. The style, which in some of Homer’s watercolors can be as dry as the pencil underdrawing, is here fluid and wet.

She calmly explodes from the canvas, and Stuart’s breezy action painting takes our breath away. Similarly rough and glamorizing is the portrait of Jerome Bonaparte (1804), who either wandered off or exhausted Stuart’s patience but is splendidly realized nonetheless. As to Jefferson (1805–7, 1805–21, 1805), Madison (1804, 1805–7), and Monroe (1817, 1821), these are the visages of record. The republic was fortunate to have, in its fledgling years, a portrait painter so professionally, so Europeanly adept, yet Yankee enough to peer through the social mien at the inner life behind it.

This painting, and one several years later of the rising firebrand Samuel Adams, might lead one to associate Copley with the colonies’ cause of independence, but in fact he married the daughter of Richard Clarke, principal agent for the British East India Company; it was Clarke’s tea, largely, that was dumped into Boston Harbor by revolutionaries painted as Mohawk Indians. In the coming crunch, Clarke was a Tory, and by 1776 Copley had settled with his wife, children, and father-in-law in London’s Leicester Square.

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