IMPRESSIONISM by Meyer Schapiro


Reflections and Perceptions
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 The charisma that charged Schapiro's (Words, Scripts, and Pictures, 1996, etc.) legendary lectures on art history unfortunately doesn't translate to these expanded but cardboard- textured essays about Impressionism. A scholar's scholar, Schapiro (190496) applied himself to all possible angles and gradations of the subject of Impressionism, including different elements of subject matter (the city, nature, portraiture), different disciplines (science, history, literature), as well as the overall historical matrix that spawned the new artistic vision. ``Impression'' had already been a buzzword in the French press and culture in the 19th century; Impressionniste was coined by a writer who extrapolated the adjective from Impression Sunrise, one of Monet's paintings. Although science was still at odds with Impressionism's ideas about perception, which favored sensations over objects, the moment had arrived for subjectivity to saturate representation, supplanting the ``then-current official taste for history, myth, and imagined worlds.'' A number of painters shared the ideas and formal aspirations of Impressionism, but Schapiro elevates Monet above the rest for his innovation, impressionability, and versatility, and devotes a lengthy chapter to him. While Schapiro is thorough (the book can't be blamed for overlooking anything), he's rarely exciting--only a little verve might have served to better illuminate what was, after all, a pivotal moment in art history and the foundation of Modernism. Tentative in tone and slow in transition, these essays are, sadly, pale remnants of a great mind and an illustrious scholar. (100 color plates, 38 black and white illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1997
ISBN: 0-8076-1420-3
Page count: 360pp
Publisher: Braziller
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1997