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Antoine's Alphabet: Watteau and His World
"Antoine's Alphabet, the new book by the New York art critic Jed Perl, is a set of reflections centered on the painter Antoine Watteau. Some sixty short texts are laid out according to the alphabetical order of their headings. These spell out some themes that anyone familiar with the painter might expect — 'Actors,' 'Commedia dell'arte,' 'Rococo' — and some others they might not — 'Beardsley,' 'Flaubert,' 'Kleist,' 'New York City.' The alphabet, in fact, turns out to be a minimum handhold on a bus ride that lurches and deviates, rattling along on sheer intuition." Julian Bell, the New York Review of Books (read the entire New York Review of Books review)
Synopses & Reviews
Antoine Watteau, one of the most mysterious painters who ever lived, is the inspiration for this delightful investigation of the tangled relationship between art and life. Weaving together historical fact and personal reflections, the influential art critic Jed Perl reconstructs the amazing story of this pioneering bohemian artist who, although he died in 1721, when he was only thirty-six, has influenced innumerable painters and writers in the centuries sinceand whose work continues to deepen our understanding of the place that love, friendship, and pleasure have in our daily lives.
Perl creates an astonishing experience by gathering his reflections on this “master of silken surfaces and elusive emotions” in the form of an alphabeta fairy tale for adultsgiving us a new way to think about art. This brilliant collage of a book is a hunt for the treasure of Watteaus life and vision that encompasses the glamour and intrigue of eighteenth-century Paris, the riotous history of Harlequin and Pierrot, and the work of such modern giants as Cézanne, Picasso, and Samuel Beckett.
By turns somber and beguiling, analytical and impressionistic, Antoines Alphabet reaffirms the contemporary relevance of the greatest of all painters of young love and imperishable dreams. It is a book to savor, to share, to return to again and again.
"The 18th-century rococo artist Jean-Antoine Watteau is art critic Perl's favorite painter, one who transforms 'powerful feelings — of love, friendship, lust, avidity, curiosity — into delectable artistic play' and 'poetic pattern.' Perl's exquisitely composed study is organized alphabetically; from 'Actors' and 'Art-for-Art's Sake' to 'Zeuxis,' and each chapter involves a theme, individual or movement related to Watteau. There are many delightful surprises, even to the reader familiar with the artist's oeuvre; Perl illuminates the links between Watteau's Harlequins and Pierrots and Beckett's characters, 'so clownish and so heartrending.' His entry on 'Flirtation' expands this theme, ubiquitous in Watteau's paintings, into a profound commentary on love and metamorphosis. Perl's essays on Watteau's most famous works, The Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera and Gersaint's Shopsign, are equally inspired; Cythera displays what for Perl are Watteau's most poignant themes: the confounding of one's own emotions and the 'elegant chaos' of the mind's consistently contradictory nature. Perl, art critic for the New Republic, has written a carefully researched, book of rare beauty and provocation. 44 illus. (Sept. 19)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Jed Perl was born in New York and studied art history and painting at Columbia University. Since 1994 he has been the art critic at The New Republic. His books include Paris Without End, Eyewitness, and New Art City: Manhattan at Mid-Century. He lives in Manhattan.
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