Recent links of note:

“Robespierre’s Chamber Pot”
Julian Barnes, London Review of Books

It is said that the pedant delights in error, the wise man in truth. One finds delight of both sorts in the art reviews of J. K. Huysmans, an early champion of Impressionism and critical scourge of much else. Commenting on a new collection of his L’Art moderne, the collection of his writings on the Salons de Paris of 1879–82 and the Independent Exhibitions of 1880–82, Julian Barnes raises the old adage about wisdom and pedantry to a second degree. He is perhaps pedantic in dissecting the relative minority of Huysmans’ favorable appraisals, given the advantages afforded by time and distance. But there is more wisdom in his words on Huysmans’ pedantry, his idiosyncratic contumelies: in Barnes’s telling, they reveal as much about one viewer’s deeply complex and developed artistic sensibility as they do about the art itself.

“Show business”
Peter Parker, Apollo

Augustus John once called the studio “a box wherein miserable painters hide themselves,” which raises the question of whether the misery precedes the box or vice-versa. In the late Victorian era, perhaps as much from morbid curiosity as from anything else, patrons and connoisseurs sought more and more to peek inside those little boxes, arranging studio visits to contemplate paintings and sculptures finished and not. Artists seized upon this opportunity to turn their studios into quasi-galleries, free from the interference of niggling curators or the distraction of other artists’ work. As a contemporary press was taking a greater interest in profiling individuals rather than their art, the studio became a sort of living statement, an extension of the artistic persona. In Louise Campbell’s new Studio Lives: Architect, Art and Artist in 20th-Century Britain (Lund Humphries), reviewed for Apollo by Peter Parker, readers now have a chance to see just how thirteen different artists worked with architects and designers to conceive, arrange, and maintain their creative spaces.

“The Durable Art of Elizabeth Bishop”
David Mason, The Hudson Review

“Few recent American poets have found readers outside a coterie of like-minded devotees,” writes David Mason for The Hudson Review; in our post-confessional age, it seems, the mere suggestion that poetry could have universal and “unembodied” meaning causes personal offense. The secret to Elizabeth Bishop’s wide acclaim, then, may lie in her unaffected approach to the subject of the self. Encountering her work, “readers . . . can’t deny a quality of experience richer than mere identity,” Mason explains. “Bishop’s popularity, as far as poetry can be popular, derives from her isolation, her individuality, her lack of self-importance.” By her mid-thirties, for instance, the poet was turning out just a couple of poems a year. Her friend and constant correspondent Robert Lowell put it so: “You feel she never wrote a poem just to fill a page.” In the age of the all-important self, it may be difficult to accept that less can be more, but, as Bishop’s legacy shows, so it is.

From the archive:

“What the Sixties wrought”
Roger Kimball on The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, c.1958–c.1974 by Arthur Marwick.


“Pocket patriot”
Timothy Jacobson on Alexander Woollcott at war.

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