Purchase Story

Books Received, December 2018

Books Received

These are brief reviews of books recently sent to us. We have included ordering information for publishers that accept mail, phone, or online orders. For other publishers, your local bookstore or a mail-order house is the place to look.

Frederic Church’s Olana on the Hudson: Art Landscape Architecture, edited by Julia B. Rosenbaum and Karen Zukowski (Rizzoli Electa, 2018, 256 pages, hardbound, $60).

The astoundingly beautiful estate of Olana, Frederic and Isabel Church’s hilltop estate outside of Hudson, New York, is celebrated in photographs and essays in this collaborative project. More than 220 photographs by Larry Lederman of Olana’s interior and exterior, the landscape and “viewscape” around Olana, and defining works of art by Church dramatically tell the story of how Olana came to be and the creative, scientific, and religious ideas that inspired the Churches to create “an extreme, multidimensional composition… [that] brought the natural world into exquisite view.” In eight essays readers will learn about the art, landscape, and architecture of Olana and how Church came to design and build “his greatest work of art” and how Church continues to inspire artists working today. The photographs are worth the price of the book alone. The insightful essays alongside his beautiful sweeping views that were “taken in the footsteps” of Church tell not only the history of Olana but also of its salvation, restoration, and continuing preservation. Preservation of the land and reinstating “Church’s scenic view lines” are a key part of the story of preserving Olana, and this book reminds all that some properties are worth keeping, not only for the stories they tell but for how they “celebrate and showcase the wonders of nature.”

John White Alexander: An American Artist in the Gilded Age by Mary Anne Goley (Philip Wilson Publishers, 2018, 256 pages, hardbound, $50).

The rags-to-riches life of John White Alexander (1856-1915), fueled by hard work and talent, is foundational to this first biography of the artist published since his death just over 100 years ago.

While Alexander is remembered today for his paintings of women in flowing gowns, Mary Anne Goley sets out to fill in the all-but-forgotten details of this artist’s backstory that made him a legend during his lifetime.

Born into a poor immigrant family in what today is Pittsburgh, Alexander was raised for a time by his hyper-religious grandparents before going to work for a telegraph company. Through his tenacity and exhibition of nascent artistic talent, Alexander drew the attention of his employer, who eventually adopted him and served as his mentor.
By the time he was 14, Alexander had set up a studio in Pittsburgh, and instead of finishing high school, he and his one-time studio-mate soon traveled down the Mississippi attempting to make a living as itinerant artists. According to Mark Twain, many of the events in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were based on stories of this trip told to him by Alexander.

But Alexander’s goals were always in clear view, and the point of his adventuring was to prepare for a career in New York City as a commercial illustrator. With the help of a few well-connected supporters—who recognized the talent in the young man without a pedigree—Alexander landed a job at the House of Harper, where his work was published in monthly and weekly editions of Harper’s. His association with the publisher would last for the rest of his life. However, he still had even bigger things in mind for his career.

Alexander’s aspirations to be a painter were supported by his enduring acumen and determination. The bulk of the book maps the worldly, decorated, and distinctive career Alexander led as an artist, set designer, costume designer, and public figure, all of which is interspersed with portrait and figure paintings, landscapes, and sketches that illustrate the breadth of his oeuvre.

The extensive research that went into this book is apparent, representing Goley’s 45-year study of this acclaimed artist whose work remains as testimony to his full yet relatively short life. She successfully makes the case for the statement made upon his death as being deserving of a place in the “Valhalla of our American genius.”

Le Corbusier: Drawing as Process by Danièle Pauly, translated by Genevieve Hendricks (Yale University Press, 2018, 303 pages, hardbound, $50 plus S/H from Yale University Press, [https://yalebooks.yale.edu] or 1-800-405-1619).

This is the English translation of the 2015 book on Le Corbusier titled “Ce Labeur secret”: Le Corbusier et le dessin. It explores the artistic ideals and work of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887-1965), known as Le Corbusier, through 300 of his drawings and his writings. Through the essays and illustrations, readers will discover how important drawing was to Le Corbusier’s overall creative process as an architect and urban planner and how “drawing was naturally, from the very beginning, a tool for understanding the world.” His drawings included landscapes, architectural elements, female nudes, and still lifes in many mediums—pencil, pen-and-ink, silverpoint, watercolor, gouache, and pastels. This book considers Le Corbusier’s drawings within the wider artistic and cultural movements of Cubism, Purism, Primitivism, and Surrealism and alongside other modern artists, such as Léger and Picasso.

Sendak and Blake Illustrating Songs of Innocence, with an essay by Prof. Robert N. Essick (Battledore Ltd, 2018, 40 pages, hardbound, $30 plus S/H from Battledore Ltd, PO Box 2288, Kingston, NY 12402; [www.childlit.com/battledore]; [914] 316-8144).

The celebrated illustrator and author of children’s literature Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) had a close and enduring relationship with his editor, Judy Taylor. In appreciation of that association, Sendak created a series of Christmas keepsakes, which were privately printed in limited edition by his publisher, The Bodley Head, London. This book re-creates for the first time the keepsake for the year 1967 in which he pays homage to William Blake’s 1789 poem Songs of Innocence. Sendak reimagines seven of Blake’s illustrations, but at the same time he pays homage to the English poet and painter. Blake’s and Sendak’s illustrations are positioned side-by-side, and Sendak’s evolving creative process is revealed to the reader. Commentary is by Professor Robert N. Essick. This book will appeal to those who cherish both Sendak and Blake for their important contributions to 18th- and 20th-century literature.

Art Deco Chicago: Designing Modern America, edited by Robert Bruegmann (Chicago Art Deco Society, in collaboration with the Chicago History Museum, distributed by Yale University Press, 2018, 412 pages, hardbound, $75 plus S/H from Yale University Press, [https://yalebooks.yale.edu] or 1-800-405-1619).

This robust volume—including 300 images, five thematic essays and 101 design studies—celebrates Chicago’s contribution to the Art Deco style (originally from the French Arts Décoratifs). Editor Robert Bruegmann states in his introduction that this book does not attempt a definition of what Art Deco is but serves as what he calls a long-overdue inventory of that city’s “entire universe” of architectural, industrial, product, graphic, and design elements that developed mostly as a result of Chicago’s 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exhibition, which commemorated the centenary of that city’s founding. Although the Art Deco style did not originate in Chicago, Bruegmann maintains that Chicago was a key player in its evolution. The book moves past the well-known works of Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rohe to architects, artists, and designers, many previously unknown, who have contributed to Chicago’s role in international design. The book celebrates not only the important Art Deco buildings of Chicago but also the rise of the designer in the production of consumer products in the 20th century.

Essential Modernism: Design between the World Wars by Dominic Bradbury (Yale University Press, 2018, 480 pages, hardbound, $85 plus S/H from Yale University Press, [https://yalebooks.yale.edu] or 1-800-405-1619).

This hefty tome will require a desk to hold it for reading and perusal. Within its 480 pages is a survey of architects, designers, designs, styles, and early developments of modern design from the 1920s to the 1940s. Bradbury writes that “nearly all modernists saw the opportunity to make the world a better place through the medium of architecture and design.” They believed in utilizing new technologies, materials, and construction techniques to accomplish it. It wasn’t simply design for design’s sake, and our modern age is full of the fruits of the developments, improvements, and ideas that flowed from and were implemented by Modernist designers featured in this book. Even the layout emphasizes modern ideals, with a table of contents that resembles a timeline and wide pages with large pictures covering some pages and laid out beside text on bright modern olive-green and white backgrounds.

Each design segment (furniture, lighting, ceramics and glass, industrial and product design, graphics and posters) is featured in an essay (furniture has two) that highlights designers and their work. The next section features 19 houses and interiors by 19 different architects, including such well-known names as Alvar Aalto and Frank Lloyd Wright. Last is an A to Z reference guide of designers, architects, and manufacturers. This is a must-have book for students, scholars, designers, and collectors.

Kovels’ Antique & Collectibles Price Guide 2019 by Terry Kovel and Kim Kovel (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2018, 506 pages, softbound, $29.99).

The 51st edition of this perennially popular guide for buyers and sellers of antiques and collectibles contains 16,000 price listings in 700 categories with over 2500 new color photographs. While not completely encyclopedic in scope, the guide remains a valuable snapshot of general conditions in the market primarily in the U.S. and Canada during the preceding year. There are informative introductions to each category with illustrated sidebars and buying tips. Prices are not estimated but are culled from realized sales at auctions (nearly all include buyers’ premiums), antiques malls, shops, and Internet sites. “Fame adds to value,” the Kovels remind would-be buyers. Included is a special section on “What’s Hot and What’s Not” noting that whereas earlier collectors wanted items in good to excellent condition, the trend is toward items in perfect condition. Kovels’ Price Guide generally confines itself to items valued at less than $5000. The guide is complemented by the Kovels’ newsletter and website, (www.kovels.com).

Delacroix by Sébastien Allard and Côme Fabre (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, distributed by Yale University Press, 2018, 314 pages, hardbound, $65 plus S/H from Metropolitan Museum of Art, [www.store.metmuseum.org] or 1-800-468-7386, or from Yale University Press, [https://yalebooks.yale.edu] or 1-800-405-1619).

This hefty exhibition catalog accompanies the Delacroix retrospective at the Met in New York City, on view through January 6, 2019. It was written by the chief curator and director of paintings at the Musée du Louvre, Sébastien Allard, with Côme Fabre, curator of 19th-century French paintings at the Louvre, which hosted the exhibition. Other contributors to the catalog explore the life, work, and success of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), whom Daniel H. Weiss, Met president and CEO, and Jean-Luc Martinez, president and director of the Louvre, call “a giant in the history of French art” and an important figure in the “unfolding of what we think of today as modern.”

In five essays with over 280 illustrations, an exhibition and catalog checklist, an index, bibliography, and notes, the book explores “this complex and protean artist.” He was a prolific artist; his works number over 800 paintings, with a multitude of prints in a variety of media, and thousands of drawings. He is also known for his writings. His work can be found all over Paris, in the Louvre and other public and private spaces, and in museum and private collections around the world. The exhibition draws artwork from 60 lenders and the Louvre. Often with dramatic and emotional scenes filled with action, Delacroix’s paintings and drawings tell complex stories.

It is hoped that the exhibition will allow viewers to “discover Delacroix with fresh eyes,” and the catalog expounds with essays titled “The Sphinx of Modern Painting”; “The Act of Looking in Delacroix’s Early Narrative Paintings”; “‘Painting His Thoughts on Paper’: Delacroix and His Journal”; “Eugène and His Masters: Becoming Delacroix”; and “Delacroix and the Exposition Universelle of 1855.” These essays draw from previous scholars’ work, recent research, Delacroix’s writings, and more, giving readers a more thorough understanding of the artist. As a final descriptive with which we can heartily agree, Weiss and Martinez call this “homage to the master...a feast for the eye and also for the spirit.”

Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America, edited by Monica Obniski and Darrin Alfred (Yale University Press, 2018, 256 pages, softbound, $50 plus S/H from Yale University Press, [https://yalebooks.yale.edu] or 1-800-405-1619).

This book about design takes the view that serious design is not just child’s play but is the work of influential 20th-century designers who pursued their work with “playful expression” and who recognized “a growing pursuit of pleasure through consumption” during the postwar period. The design of this book also suggests the theme of its contents—that of design and play—with bright, colorful design elements. How play influenced mid-20th-century designers is explored in more than 200 illustrations and photographs of designers at work (or play) and examples of their work. Designers brought “an alternative approach, effectively blurring the boundaries between work and whimsy” in designing furniture, clocks, home interiors, corporate interiors, children’s toys and furniture, posters, PR campaigns, and more.

Eight essays discuss playful domesticity; Ray and Charles Eames and the Eames storage wall; Irving Harper, George Nelson, and Herman Miller wall clocks; Eva Zeisel; toys and children’s furniture; Alexander Girard and corporate interior designs; Paul Rand and graphic design; and the Alcoa Forecast Program.

The editors write in the introduction: “Architects and designers shaped culture through play and through a playful state of mind. By assembling and calling attention to their work, we hope that the value of play will be recognized. In short, it is past time to take play seriously.” This book is part of a collaborative curated museum exhibition by the same name that is currently showing at the Milwaukee Art Museum (until January 6, 2019) and that will move to the Denver Art Museum from May 5 until August 25, 2019. An exhibition checklist and index are included.

The Art of Iron: Objects from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen, Normandy by Kathleen M. Morris with contributions by Alexandra Bosc and Anne-Charlotte Cathelinaeu (Yale University Press, 2018, 112 pages, softbound, $35 plus S/H from Yale University Press, [https://yalebooks.yale.edu] or 1-800-405-1619).

This exhibition catalog highlights 36 wrought-iron objects from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles in Rouen, Normandy, France, that were shown at the Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, from June 9 to September 16, 2018. This small exhibition gives only a taste of the collection of 16,000-plus wrought-iron objects at Musée Le Secq, housed in a former Gothic church in Rouen. The museum opened in 1921, and by 1924 the collection already numbered 9600 objects. The bulk of the early collection included iron objects saved and collected from buildings all over France by Jean-Louis Henri Le Secq Destournelles, known as Henri Le Secq, a sculptor, painter, and later a photographer, and his younger son, also Henri.

This small catalog showcases the iron art and discusses the history of the collection and museum as well as the working relationship between the Clark Institute and Musée Le Secq. Essays also discuss ironwork and how it was used before the advent of newer technologies. The 36 artistic wrought-iron objects in the exhibition included shop signs, locks, lecterns, grilles, grates, gates, and household and husbandry items. Captions explain each piece; some objects are attributed to specific locations, while other descriptions identify the kind of business the signs represented or how the objects were used. Morris describes these wrought-iron wonders as “strange and familiar” and invites viewers “to marvel at the creative inventiveness and technical skill of their makers as well as reflect on bygone ways of life.”

Smith & Wesson Engraving by Michael J. Kennelly (Mowbray Publishing, 2018, 404 pages, hardbound, $79.95 plus S/H from Mowbray Publishing, [www.gunandswordcollector.com] or 1-800-999-4697).

This “celebration of artistry in arms” takes a detailed and “most complete look at how the engraver’s art has been applied to S&W pistols and revolvers.” This book is a showpiece with more than 1400 bright, large, and clear photographs that show the exquisite engravings on the guns. A chapter on the artistry and tools of engraving begins the book. Chapters group the guns divided by models and types, including antique; Tiffany-decorated; I, J, K, L, and N frames; custom commissions; modern presentation, inscription, and exhibition guns; and semiautomatic handguns. The appendices include a list of Smith & Wesson factory engravers, photographs of a modern day engraver at work, and biographies of select engravers. There is an index of engravers as well. Collectors will enjoy getting a close look at rare engraved Smith & Wesson guns from many private collections.

In the Grand Tradition: The Enduring Art of Elbert Weinberg by Nancy Finlay (Hartford History Center, Hartford Public Library, 2018, 58 pages, softbound, $25 plus S/H from Wesleyan University Press, [www.wesleyan.edu/wespress/] or [860] 685-7711).

The Hartford (Connecticut) History Center has published this book exploring the life and work of Hartford artist and sculptor Elbert Weinberg (1928-1991). In 2013 the Elbert Weinberg Trust gave 1500 photographs, approximately 1000 drawings, three sketchbooks, several dozen prints, extensive business and personal papers, and representative sculptures to the Hartford Public Library and Hartford History Center. The curator at the center, Nancy Finlay, organized and curated the collection and wrote this book to introduce a new generation to Weinberg and his work embracing traditional and spiritual themes.

Weinberg’s work is described in the opening lines of the first chapter as “profoundly literary and literate” and conveying “multiple meanings and subtle allusions.” Many of his sculptures express aspects of Jewish history and tradition and Biblical stories. Two of his most famous works are Jewish Holocaust memorials, one in Wilmington, Delaware, and another in West Hartford, Connecticut. Finlay’s essays mix biography and commentary along with photographs of Weinberg and his work. The history center has digitized much of the collection, and it can be viewed on its website (http://hhc.hplct.org), along with information about the book and more resources on Weinberg. 

Originally published in the December 2018issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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