This week: An artist biography, open house architecture & more.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Seated Dancer, 1871–72, Oil paint over graphite on pink paperThaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum


The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art, by Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney (W. W. Norton & Company): Though an exceedingly accomplished painter, sculptor, and architect in his day, Giorgio Vasari’s place in history has undoubtedly been cemented by his authorship of The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, the first published encyclopedia of artist biographies and the source of almost everything we know about the many creative heroes of the Renaissance. Though Vasari’s Lives remains to this day required reading for students of Renaissance art, the author’s personal biases and interest in creating a compelling narrative out of his history of “modern” art often lead the book from the path of fact. Like many histories in that period, the biographies form a Biblically inspired arc that tracks a continual improvement of the state of art from Giotto to Michelangelo, and Vasari gives perhaps undue credit to the artists from his own home region of Tuscany at the expense of Venice. Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney’s new book, The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art, digs deep into the details of Vasari’s artistic and writing career, providing sharp insight into how and why Vasari composed his famous volume. The book serves not only as a gripping introduction to the Italian Renaissance art world (where fierce competition, personal rivalry, and immense creative production was the daily norm) but also as an erudite contemplation of the origins and implications of Vasari’s foundational text. —AS


Rembrandt van Rijn, The Bulwark De Rose and the Windmill De Smeerpot, Amsterdam, ca. 1649–52, Pen and brown ink and wash, Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum

“Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection,” at The Morgan Library & Museum (through January 7, 2018): It seems to be drawing season in the venerable museums of Manhattan. In last week’s Critic’s Notebook, our executive editor James Panero flagged the Met’s ongoing exhibition of drawings titled “Leonardo to Matisse: Masterpieces from the Robert Lehman Collection.” In an almost identically themed exhibition, The Morgan Library & Museum presents over 150 drawings from its Thaw Collection that cover a similar timespan. The exhibition reads like a stripped-down crash course in the history of Western art, displaying highlights by such diverse artists as Rubens, Tiepolo, Goya, Cézanne, Matisse, Pollock, and many more. —AS


Thomas Adès and Friends: An Afternoon of Song, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall (October 15): This summer I wrote a bit about Thomas Adès, one of today’s great composers, and how he is just as marvelous a pianist. His playing on a recital of Schubert lieder and—in particular—the “Trout” Quintet was the highlight of my week at Tanglewood. This Sunday at Carnegie Hall, he gathers a group of distinguished colleagues for a recital, “Thomas Adès and Friends,” featuring songs by Schubert, Britten, Purcell (in Adès’s own realization), Stravinsky, and John Woolrich, as well as one original work by Adès himself. Sally Matthews, Alice Coote, Iestyn Davies, and Joseph Kaiser, distinguished singers all, join him for what should be a memorable evening in Zankel. —ECS


Open House New York Weekend (October 14–15): While much of the glory of New York’s architecture can be seen from the street—think of the Chrysler building’s crowning spire or the gleaming mannerist façade of the New York Public Library’s main branch—it must be said that many of Gotham’s architectural treasures are either strictly private or limited in access. Open House New York Weekend, now in its seventeenth edition, changes that, albeit briefly. As part of the program, various buildings in New York will open their doors this weekend to anyone with a curious mind. While some of the sites have specific visiting hours that must be booked in advance, others have open access. On my personal list: the Cunard Building, on lower Broadway and now home to a branch of Cipriani, with its neo-Renaissance vaulted interior with murals in the pendentives depicting famous transatlantic voyages; Rockefeller University, with its multifarious fourteen-acre campus fronting the East River and dating to 1904; and the Ukrainian Institute of America, housed in the Harry F. Sinclair House, a ca. 1898 French gothic château designed by C. P. H. Gilbert fronting Fifth Avenue at Seventy-ninth Street. With 140 open sites, there is sure to be an Open House for everyone. —BR

From the archive: “Elia Kazan: a director’s notes,” by John Simon (September 2009). A look at the brain behind the camera.

John Singer Sargent, Wheels in Vault,  1918,  Watercolor,  graphite, and wax on white wove paper,  the Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the current issue: “Exhibition note,” by Mario Naves. On “World War I and The Visual Arts” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Broadcast: “Populism & its critics.” A symposium of preeminent conservative thinkers including Roger Kimball, James Piereson, Andy McCarthy, Douglas Carswell, Daniel Johnson & more.

Click here for a full archive of past Critic’s Notebooks.

Harlem Renaissance

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