Discerning, admiring profiles of Rupert Barneby and Dwight Ripley, who had a profound impact on botany, the 20th-century avant-garde, and each other.
Barneby made his mark as a taxonomist, in particular of the complex genus Astragalus with its 2,500 separate species. Ripley was both a financial supporter of the arts and an artist in his own right. Poet Crase crafts a twin biography notable for the languid grace of his prose, if not its concision. (After all, he’s dealing here with the messiness of life.) Chronicling a relationship that lasted 48 years, from their schoolboy romance at Harrow in 1925 through a move to the US in the late ’30s to Ripley’s death in 1973, the author neatly delineates the canny fit of their lives, the way in which botany and art fueled each other. Their work speaks volumes on its own, but Crase gives liveliness to Barneby’s affinity for plants and playfulness with Latin, the “pungent hauteur” of his taxonomic writings, and to Ripley’s knack for vivid botanical description, his use of colored pencil, his imitation of avant-garde art, itself an imitation of intimating. Ripley’s modest trust fund helped the men pursue their objectives, but he also gave a large percentage of it to support the work of Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, Helen Frankenthaler, Fairfield Porter, John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and Kenneth Koch, all of whom helped alter post-WWII conventions. Crase draws a heartfelt portrait of the two men as life companions, supporting and egging on each other with Barneby’s clarity and Ripley’s psychological thrashings.
Just as the men would have wanted, Crase swimmingly describes two lives that were free of the limelight yet satisfyingly committed to the artistic and intellectual movements of their time. (Photographs)