Book Review: ‘Manet And Modern Beauty’ By Scott Allan, Emily A Beeny, Gloria Groom (Editors)


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Book writing and publishing is an art. Nothing gives more pleasure than holding a book which has been put together with utmost care, compiled with clear illustrations, written by experts in the field who exercise restraint and do not give in to the temptation of showing off their knowledge and expertise before general audience. Books teach and books charm. This was the impression I formed after going through the book Manet and Modern Beauty by Scott Allan, Emily A Beeny, Gloria Groom (Editors).

I do not have much to say about this book. If you have been a regular reader of my reviews, you must be aware that I usually give an overview of a book and mention its strong and weak points. I resist from forcing my opinion upon you. However, occasionally I do come across a book in which it is enormously difficult to find any faults. Manet and Modern Beauty is one example. There is so much that this book has to offer perhaps something for every reader. OK, first let me tell you what this book is about. As mentioned by the publisher in the description of the book,.. This volume is published to accompany exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago May 26 to September 8, 2019 and the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center October 8, 2019, to January 12, 2020.

During his final years, French artist Édouard Manet was mostly restricted and could not move outdoors or work for long stretches of time. During this time he would mostly paint decorative art, and did watercolour illustrations in the correspondence with his acquaintances. During the last decade, he also made studio portraits of his female friends and models. These were very different from his usual style and that of his contemporary artists. Unfortunately some of these artworks were not appreciated that time. However, with passage of time, and also rise of feminism, Manet’s late artworks attracted more and more interest especially for understanding the lifestyle of Parisian women in the 19th century and their attention to the nuances of contemporary fashion, clothing and accessories. He had planned to make a series of paintings dedicated to the seasons, with one painting depicting one season. The first painting Le Printemps (spring) depicting model Jeanne Demarsy makes the cover of this book. The series was not completed. All these artworks are included in this exhibition. At the same time, the writer warns us that “…to explain away … as a symptom of his illness or his association with demimondaines is to undermine his agency… Not all dying artists paint pretty women and flowers, after all, and few indeed turn out work as determinedly fresh and vivid as Manet’s”.

The language of the book is very simple and anyone with even elementary knowledge and interest in fine arts would be able to comprehend the information presented here. Very clear reprints of Manet’s artworks are presented throughout the book which only enhance the overall merit and visual appeal of the book. A detailed year-by-year chronology of important events in Manet’s life is also given. Although it is easy to notice the temptation on part of the authors to discuss about Manet in detail, still mostly they successfully restrict themselves within the intended and proposed scope of the book viz., Manet’s final years.

The Foreword and Introduction give you an overview of the exhibition and the essays contained in the book. This gives you an idea about what to expect at the exhibition and its importance keeping in mind its historical significance. The book is intended to accompany the exhibition, and it definitely serves well to the layperson also. Ample description of various artworks are given throughout the text, so in a way you also get an educational course on how to look at a piece of art. In addition, a complete catalogue of the various artworks on display at the exhibition is included with adequate description, which would definitely aid the general viewers with appreciating the artworks.

The most beautiful phrase in the book is also perhaps the best tribute to Manet: “Fresh, intimate, and unapologetically pretty, Manet’s late works demonstrate his fierce embrace of beauty and pleasure in the teeth of acute physical suffering.” Well, who knows, may be it was art which gave him courage and strength to bear all that suffering.

I did not find any editorial mistakes, typographical errors or formatting issues. This book would make a valuable addition to your personal library.

Title: Manet and Modern Beauty
Author: Scott Allan, Emily A Beeny, Gloria Groom (Editors)
Publisher: J. Paul Getty Museum
Hardcover Book Length: 400 pages
Price (Hardcover): $43.47
My rating: 5-st
What does it mean?

#ManetAndModernBeauty #NetGalley

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