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ISBN 0714837768 / 9780714837765 / 0-7148-3776-8
Publisher Phaidon Press
› Find signed collectible books: 'Victorian Painting'
After 500 pages of sparkling, appreciative text and gorgeously reproduced paintings of fairies, angels, knights in shining armor, Queen Victoria, rustic bumpkins, mermaids, society ladies, gamboling colts, roses, storm-tossed seas, and small children accompanied by mutts, not to mention Ophelia floating beautifully in her watery, flower-strewn grave, readers may feel as if they inhabit the 19th century. It's a shock to wake up to the end of the 20th instead, and to the end of a deeply satisfying book. Lionel Lambourne, who was head of paintings at London's Victoria and Albert Museum for nearly a decade, writes with knowledge, wit, and grace. "Scratch a cynic and you will always find a sentimentalist," he says with regard to Victorian genre painting. In discussing the nude and a return to classicism, he writes, "Such works ... provided an additional thrill for their nouveau riche owners, for by displaying them they could show evidence of classical leanings, if not a classical education."
After an excellent introductory overview, Lambourne divides his course into 21 chapters, including: "The Victorian Art Establishment," "The Fresco Revival," "The Panorama," "Childhood and Sentiment," "Fairy Painting," "Sporting and Animal Painting," "The Pre-Raphaelites," "The Frailer Sex and Fallen Woman," "Aesthetes and Symbolists," and "Impressionism in Britain." The editing and design of the book are superb, with reproductions exactly matching the text and captions containing all relevant information. Lambourne offers new dimensions even to history we think we know well, such as Whistler's lawsuit against the critic John Ruskin, who famously accused the artist of "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." In Lambourne's view, the controversy "marked the beginning of aspects of art as various as conceptualism and abstraction," and he goes on to explain why. A tour de force of scholarship served up with style, Victorian Painting does ample justice to a complex, frequently misunderstood era. --Peggy Moorman [via]