Which of us, in the presence of a painting, has not felt that we lack the keys to decipher it? We feel an emotional response, but the work still seems to evade our understanding. Francoise Barbe-Gall combines a nuanced understanding of the way viewers respond to paintings with a rich knowledge of their context and circumstances of their creation. The result is like a tour of an extraordinary museum in the company of a gentle yet authoritative guide. A fascinating range of works are grouped in six thought-provoking chapters that examine our different responses to the ways in which paintings define reality. The author takes as her point of departure the impressions that we all feel when confronted by a canvas and takes us on a voyage of discovery fired by her own passionate enthusiasm for the subject. What is the painting's relationship with the real world? Has the artist idealized nature, or distorted it? Did they want to shock the viewer, or provide consolation? With a clear approach and straightforward yet subtle analysis, the meaning of each work slowly becomes clear. From Raphael's penetrating character study of Castiglione, through Hopper's cinematic take on the wee small hours of the morning, Barbe-Gall begins by covering a number of ostensibly realistic works, made from the stuff of everyday life. Going in quite the other direction, she then looks at the way paintings can express moments of heightened reality, from the perfection of Boticelli's Primavera to the arresting glance of Vermeer's Girl with the Pearl Earring. She discusses paintings that distort the visible world (Parmigianino's Madonna with an improbably long neck, Dali's melting clocks) and those that sow confusion to make us pay closer attention to the real world (Cezanne's depiction of a forest glade, a mysterious fifteenth century altarpiece). Questions of history, style, iconography and composition are dealt in context of the paintings she discusses. Lavishly illustrated and featuring thirty-six fascinating works from Raphael to Rothko, Breughel to Bacon, this is also a magnificent art book.
Frances Lincoln Publisher
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Chapter 1 Observing a simple reality Discovering the essence of a character Raphael, Balthazar Castiglione 12 Confronting the truth of emotions Caravaggio, The Death of the Virgin 20 Guessing what remains unsaid Bartolomeo Bettera, Still Life with Two Lutes, a Virginal and Books on a Table Covered by a Carpet 28 Feeling a sense of deja vu John Constable, Helmingham Dell 34 Believing ourselves at the cinema Edward Hopper, Nighthawks 40 Recognizing the substance of the world Antoni Tapies, Seven Chairs 48 Chapter 2 > page 54 Contemplating a sublimated world Assisting at a significant event Rogier van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross 58 Flirting with the idea of perfection Sando Botticelli, Primavera 66 Feeling time stand still Jan Vermeer, The Head of a Young Girl, or Girl with a Pearl Earring 74 Accepting that we cannot see everything Diego Velazquez, The Rokeby Venus 82 Noticing the grace of the present Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Moulin de la Galette 90 Witnessing the birth of light Pierre Soulages, Painting 98 Chapter 3 > page 104 Analysing distortions to the visible world Imagining the point of eternity Giotto di Bondone, Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata 108 Discerning the troubles of history Il Parmigianino, The Madonna with the Long Neck 116 Sensing a metamorphosis Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Mademoiselle Riviere 124 Glimpsing primitive nature Henri Rousseau ('Le Douanier'), Child with Doll 132 Adapting to circumstances Pablo Picasso, The Aubade 138 Abandoning the evidence Salvador Dali, Persistence of Memory 144 Chapter 4 > page 152 Taking account of what appears confusing Making allowances for mystery Anonymous Provencal artist, The Boulbon Altarpiece 156 Taking time to be wrong Pieter Bruegel, The Bearing of the Cross 164 Appreciating a way of thinking Jean-Antoine Watteau, Embarkation for Cythera 172 Measuring the difficulty of seeing Paul Cezanne, In the Park at Chateau Noir 180 Welcoming a new freedom Vassily Kandinsky, With the Black Arch 188 Feeling our way to reality Georges Braque, Woman with a Guitar 194 Chapter 5 > page 202 Getting over the shock of our first impression Considering the function of a painting Mathias Grunewald, The Crucifixion 206 Seizing the grandeur of a ritual Rembrandt, The Flayed Ox 214 Passing through the mirror Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, Les Vieilles or Time 220 Understanding the logic of a vision Paul Gauguin, Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) 230 Seeing life unravel Edvard Munch, The Scream 238 Gaining access to the opposite side of things Francis Bacon, Study of George Dyer in a Mirror 246 Chapter 6 > page 254 Abandoning ourselves to the gentleness of a painting Abandoning our fear of shadows Leonardo da Vinci, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne 258 Seeing history in the making Nicolas Poussin, Rinaldo and Armida 266 Forgetting the weight of the world Bartolome Esteban Murillo, Saint Thomas of Villanueva Distributing Alms 274 Enjoying a lasting peace Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin, Three Apples, Two Chestnuts, Bowl and Silver Goble, or The Silver Goblet 282 Welcoming the ephemeral Claude Monet, Water Lilies 290 Learning to wait Mark Rothko, The Ochre 298
Francoise Barbe-Gall studied history of art at the Sorbonne and also at the Ecole du Louvre, where she now teaches. She also directs an association called CORETA (Comment Regarder un Tableau), for whom she gives many lectures. She is regularly called upon to participate in management workshops, where her experience of analysing images in relation to publicity and marketing is called upon. Editions de l'Agenda de L'Empresa have published a collection of her articles, and she is the author of several articles on the work of the sculptor Tom Carr. She is the author of How to Talk to Children about Art and How to Understand a Painting, both published in English by Frances Lincoln.
I love this accessible French bestseller, which helps us look afresh at 36 works from Raphael to Rothko, Brueghel to bacon. The quality of the illustrations is of high quality too. Bookseller Barbe-Gall's ability to make works accessible ... is plain to see. Artists & Illustrators Takes the reader on a voyage of discovery... The author asks questions about the artists intentions and technique, and ultimately encourages us to appreciate the power and relevance of our own perception. Good Book Guide