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Art: A New Historyby Paul Johnson
Synopses & Reviews
In Art: A New History, Paul Johnson turns his great gifts as a world historian to a subject that has enthralled him all his life: the history of art. This narrative account, from the earliest cave paintings up to the present day, has new things to say about almost every period of art. Taking account of changing scholarship and shifting opinions, he draws our attention to a number of neglected artists and styles, especially in Scandinavia, Germany, Russia and the Americas.
Paul Johnson puts the creative originality of the individual at the heart of his story. He pays particular attention to key periods: the emergence of the artistic personality in the Renaissance, the new realism of the early seventeenth century, the discovery of landscape painting as a separate art form, and the rise of ideological art. He notes the division of 'fashion art' and fine art at the beginning of the twentieth century, and how it has now widened.
Though challenging and controversial, Paul Johnson is not primarily a revisionist. He is a passionate lover of beauty who finds creativity in many places. With 300 colour illustrations, this book is vivid, evocative and immensely readable, whether the author is describing the beauty of Egyptian low-relief carving or the medieval cathedrals of Europe, the watercolours of Thomas Girtin or the utility of Roman bridges ('the best bridges in history'), the genius of Andrew Wyeth or the tranquility of the Great Mosque at Damascus, the paintings of Ilya Repin or a carpet-page from the Lindisfarne Gospels. The warmth and enthusiasm of Paul Johnson's descriptions will send readers hurrying off to see these wonders for themselves.
"A gorgeously illustrated and provocative interpretation of the evolution of Western art. . . . Thrilling in its scope, fluency, and zest." Booklist (starred review)
"The extremely erudite author frames this epic, eloquent tale as a spellbinding, one-sided conversation in which he spills out the story of art, its production, and its meaning. . . . A delightful exercise for the educated consumer." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Johnson's history bring(s) a refreshing sense of bluntness to an often staid tradition." Publishers Weekly
"This book stands apart from the many other revisionist surveys in its superior readability and its panoramic analysis not only of objects but also of ideas and their inevitable cross-fertilization over centuries." Library Journal (starred review)
"[A] master of narrative history. . . . About many of the greatest painters in the history of Western art [Johnson] writes with such an engaging combination of passion and instruction that the reader longs to hurry off to the nearest museum to renew his acquaintance with the works under discussion." Hilton Kramer, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"The book is really an extended and engaging work of art criticism rather than a strict history, with many fresh points of view and many eccentric ones. . . . It always has the virtue of a strong and opinionated intelligence guiding its arguments and prose." Wall Street Journal
A provocative, personal view of the history of art from the earliest cave paintings to the present day.
About the Author
Paul Johnson is a historian whose work ranges across the millennia and the whole gamut of human activities. He contributes a weekly essay to The Spectatorand a monthly column to Forbes, and lectures around the world. He lives in London.
Table of Contents
Painted caves and giant stones — Ancient Egypt and the origins of style — Palace art in the ancient Near East — Greek art: idealism versus realism — Rome: an art set in concrete — Monotheism: basilica, mosque and tomb — Dynamics of the Dark Age North — The climax of cathedral art — The rise of creative individualism under Christianity — Rediscovery and transformation of Graeco-Roman culture — The apotheosis of the statue — The great masters of Italian painting — The Roman climax of art and its confused aftermath — The new realism of the seventeenth century — The first great landscape paintings — The golden century of Spanish art — The Dutch attain 'the perfection of professional art' — Towns, palaces, churches, gardens — Splendours and mysteries of the eighteenth century — Classical and religious revival — The Western penetration of Asia: India, China, Japan and their art — The watercolour and its global spread — Romanticism and history — Painting the American world and its wonders — The belated arrival and sombre glories of Russian art — The internal conflicts of nineteenth-century art — Art and the realities of the industrialised world — Skyscrapers, Art Nouveau, Art Deco — The beginnings of fashion art — The resurgence of the primitive — The rule and ravages of ideological art — The dangers and opportunities of twenty-first-century art.
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