I don’t write too many book reviews on this blog but that’s mostly because I read A LOT! Two or three books a week, and have several going at the same time. I write tons of reviews for Amazon, probably in excess of 1,000 and that is NOT everything that I read or use either.
But I thought I’d share with you my thoughts about some artist biographies that I’ve read recently. These are not art books but actual biographies or autobiographies. Some I liked; some not so much. I have eclectic tastes.
The first one that I would highly recommend is Norman Rockwell’s autobiography My Adventures as an Illustrator. He actually recorded his thoughts on a Dictaphone in 1960 and then it was pulled together by his son Tom. It is an enjoyable read. Rockwell is so humorous and self-deprecating. I always love to see how people became who they eventually became and this is a great book which follows Rockwell’s life from beginning to end. There are many illustrations and drawings in this tome but that is not the main focus. It’s a huge book at 500+ pages printed on thick paper. Best not to fall asleep in bed with it as you could get hurt if it falls on you.
Another favorite painter of mine is the Swedish painting Carl Larsson. I fell in love with his work when I first encountered his beautifully illustrated books over forty years ago. This autobiography is well-translated making it immensely easy to read. Another artist who came up from difficult circumstances to become a national treasure. The book is illustrated with many of his original sketches.
Edward Hopper in Vermont by Bonnie Toucher Clause. I am a big Hopper fan. Generally I love the feeling of the lonely soul which he seems to be able to impart in many of his paintings. But he is also known for his landscapes and street scenes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. The author basically focuses on a small series of watercolor paintings that Hopper did during his time in Vermont. (I should mention here that many artists escaped the city during the 20s, 30s, and 40s, if not permanently, then at least for the summers.) Frankly, the book reads like a senior thesis. Not necessarily my favorite. It does have some black and white illustrations.
The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals and Breakthroughs in Modern Art by Sebastian Smee. I enjoyed reading this book very much as the author writes about four pairs of artists who were contemporaries. Matisse and Picasso. Manet and Degas. Pollock and de Kooning. Freud and Bacon. Although I was familiar with all of these artists, some more than others, the author delves deeply into their influences, jealousies, rivalries, and the times in which they were making art. Frankly there were a few artists that I didn’t really like so much after I read this book but, hey, that is why we read, isn’t it?
Rosa Bonheur by Anna Klumpke, The Artist’s [auto] Biography. I have always been an admirer or Rosa Bonheur’s paintings, particularly some of her large animal paintings. But, well, this book is a bit dull. Typically, it follow’s Bonheur’s early life and how she got into painting. Then entered her companion Anna Klumpke who writes a good deal about Bonheur’s life. Supposedly it was nearly dictated to her, or Anna had a photographic memory for what Rosa relayed to her. Overall, written in very stilted and flowery language, it takes perseverance to get through the entire book.
Finally, I’m going to recommend two videos/movies about a couple of my favorite artists.
The first one is David Hockney: A Bigger Picture. I first saw this film on TV and then purchased the DVD. I’m a huge Hockney fan. No, I don’t paint anything like him but I’ve always admired how he keeps reinventing himself. He doesn’t seem afraid to follow whatever rabbit trail he is on, from his early California paintings to several years experimenting with copier prints. In this film biography, Hockney returns to England and gets caught up in loads of plein air paintings, including one on a grand scale (the size of a warehouse wall) which he donated to the British National Gallery. The film is worth watching several times just to hear Hockney’s thought processes, his humor and his own challenges.
Finally, if you haven’t seen Willem Defoe’s portrayal of Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate you have really missed something. I’m sure your local library will have a copy or you can probably catch it on one of the on-demand channels. The film depicts Van Gogh’s final years in Provence, his time with Gaugin, and the influence of his brother Theo. So beautifully shot, you will want to watch it more than once.
So, if you’re interested in learning more about your favorite artists, these are a few biographies that I would like to recommend. Please check out an earlier post where I had other recommendations.