Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"The Master" at the Morgan

Last week I took a quick trip to the Big Apple and had the pleasure of viewing a new exhibition at the Morgan Library: "Henry James and American Painting."  If you like late 19th/early 20th-century art (and who doesn't!), the show is worth viewing in its own right, even if you aren't a big James aficionado.  It will be up through Sept. 10.

As a bonus, on June 28 I attended a joint lecture at the Morgan by Colm Toibin, author of The Master  (which we discussed way back in November 2005, and I highly recommend) and Jean Strouse, an authority on Alice James. They focused on the paintings and photographs in the show, but also explored some of the themes Toibin incorporates into that novel.

That one-two combination prompted me to dig out a book I'd purchased many years ago but never gotten around to reading: The Painter's Eye: Notes and Essays on the Pictorial Arts by Henry James.  Compiled and edited by John L. Sweeney in 1989, this collection is out of print (alas) but widely available.  While many of James' reviews are fussy (bordering on bitchy) and precious, and/or address obscure figures and paintings, his wit and precision are ever in evidence.  Here's just one example, in which he unloads both barrels on Gérôme's "Un combat de coqs":

"The horrid little game in the center, the brassy nudity of the youth, the peculiarly sensible carnality of the young woman, the happy combination of moral and physical shamelessness, spiced with the most triumphant cleverness, conduce to an impression from which no element of interest is absent—save the good, old-fashioned sense of being pleased."


Tim said...

The "brassy nudity" — oh please! The Nance of Nuance is only displeased at the most important cock being hors de combat !

DCSteve1441 said...

I believe you've sunk Henry's battleship, Tim! Thanks for adding the painting in question.

Cheers, Steve