REMBRANDT'S MONKEY by Alexandra Connor


And Other Tales from the Secret Lives of the Great Artists
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 A hyperbolic retelling of lurid and lecherous gossip about famous artists. Here, Connor, a British novelist, has rewritten much of European art history with an eye for the scatological: ``Then, there is the drawing Rembrandt did of the woman urinating (and worse, if you look very closely)....'' She writes of eroticism, crime, deformity, ghosts, and the occult from the Renaissance onward, focusing on debauchery, depravity, homosexuality, and insanity, all of which she seems to find amusing. Taking this route, she confuses cause and effect: Goya's soaring descriptions of war are reduced to a fascination with cannibalism and attributed to a ``dark nature.'' The 20-century German George Grosz, who so convincingly and movingly painted the torment and confusion caused by WW I, becomes a man whose ``real problem was that he could not look at the war dispassionately but used it as an excuse to loathe mankind in general.'' Meanwhile, Connor draws illogical conclusions and calls them facts. Out of nowhere, she writes: ``It would seem almost certain that [Delacroix's] real father was the French statesman Talleyrand, because M. Charles Delacroix was, at the time of the painter's conception, recovering from an operation to remove a tumor that precluded any sexual activity for some time.'' She also makes points that often seem pointless and relays stories that are incomprehensible: ``During the sack of Rome, [Florentine artist Giovan Battista] was captured by the Germans, who stripped him and forced him to lift huge weights and empty a shopful of cheese.'' There are numerous stories of women done their artists wrong, and sniggering tales of sexual preference: ``[Caravaggio's] picture of St. John the Baptist is blatantly sexually inviting, and the Lute Player resounds with all the homosexual leanings of both the artist and his patron, Cardinal del Monte.'' Connor may be correct when she says that the writing of art history can be pompous and overbearing, but surely there's a better way to poke lighthearted fun than this.

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 1991
ISBN: 0-312-06004-1
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1991