Graham-Dixon, the art critic for the British newspaper the Independent, notes in the introduction to this collection of his terse critiques of museum exhibits and gallery shows that they were written not ""for posterity but for tomorrow's newspaper."" That makes them more, rather than less, impressive: Whether discussing Egon Schiele's disturbing nudes, CÃ¢zanne's turbulent apprenticeship, Claude Lorrain's ""radiant, melancholy"" landscapes, the ""graceless, scurrilous, irreverent"" late art of Picasso, or the ideology of nationalism and hygiene shaping Vermeer's paintings, Graham-Dixon is exact and persuasive. He renders the specifics of a work of art with great precision (and, often, sympathy), and matches the specifics with short, deft passages on each artist's background, tastes, intentions, and career. He doesn't mind sharing his enthusiasms, is witty without ever seeming jaded, and can usually find a metaphor or image to nicely sum up the particular impact of a work of art. The hasty origins of the pieces sometimes intrudes; there's little room for documenting assertions. Nonetheless, this is a stimulating, often surprising debut collection.