John Russell (1919–2008) was Chief Art Critic at The New York Times from 1982 until 1990. He was the author of many art-historical studies, including Matisse, Father & Son and The Meanings of Modern Art.

Geniuses Together

John Updike’s novel Seek My Face is the life story, told mostly in the first person singular, of an American woman called Hope Chafetz. She is presented to us as the wife and widow of a major figure in the history of American painting. The painter in question is identified …

Modern Art Groupie

For much of her long lifetime, Peggy Guggenheim was the archetypal “celeb”—a person, that is to say, who is known for being known. In the gossip that never spared her, there was buzz but little substance, and envy but no insight. Stories about her were told and retold at third …

In Goreyland

When he died in 2000 at the age of seventy-five Edward Gorey was well known and widely treasured as a draftsman, a storyteller, an illustrator, a balletomane of long standing, a master of the educated book-jacket, and an inventor of images that were peculiar to himself. Among image-makers, who but …

Face to Face with Seurat

It is easier for the visitor to France to read about Seurat than to see his work. There was, in fact, something almost willed, if not actually paralytic, about the readiness with which the guardians of the French cultural tradition allowed Seurat’s paintings and drawings to leave France, one by …

‘The King of the Cats’

Not very long ago, no English-language publisher would have wanted to consider a comprehensive survey of the life and work of a French painter known simply as Balthus. Balthus was widely regarded as an up-market near-pornographer who painted teenage young women in provocative attitudes and states that bordered on indecency.

Confessions of a Child of the Century

As an autobiographer, John Richardson has a great deal going for him. He has been in and around the international art world for many years. He can tell a story as well as anyone in town. If he has ever spent time with a bore, we don’t hear about it.

Happy Birthday, Elliott Carter!

We have in our midst an American composer, Elliott Carter, who has reinvented the string quartet, perfected the microdrama for a single voice and a handful of instrumentalists, introduced a new sense of civility into the performance of very difficult pieces for large orchestra, and speculated about the nature of …

High Spirits

On any list of inhospitable shores, a place should be reserved for the Soviet side of the Gulf of Finland in late October. Spruce and fir look their worst. Dunes are both slimy and precipitous. On the strand, huge misshapen stones, greasy and granitic, sweat the day away. Tumbledown dachas …

Super Trouper

Neither in life nor on the stage did Eleonora Duse (1858–1924) correspond to the popular idea of a “great actress.” Never did she look at the audience the way Vladimir Horowitz used to look at the piano, with a sublime ferocity. “With her looks,” an experienced impresario said of her …

The Return of Meyerhold

To those who, like myself, were in and out of many Soviet theaters in the late 1950s and early 1960s, nothing could have seemed less likely than that as early as 1969 there would appear a monumental book on Vsevolod Meyerhold, drawn entirely from Soviet sources and written by a …

Pas de deux

The early memoirs of Bronislava Nijinska have been highly praised, and rightly so. Even by the standards of the Russian nineteenth century into which she was born, they are remarkable for their charm, their substance, and their transparent integrity. They deal with a period in the history of dance that …

The Spirit of 1917

On the evening of February 20, 1981, some very odd things happened on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House. Stagehands went about their business dressed as Punchinellos out of Domenico Tiepolo, complete with tall, tapering hats and hook-nosed masks. A man fathered babies by the dozen with no help …

Master of Letters

Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883) is in all the histories of English literature, and in every Dictionary of Quotations, as the translator of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. That apart, he has not a universal name. Nor did he crave one. When he published his scanty writings, he did it anonymously and …

Light and Lively

There has lately been set before us, in exhibitions and critical essays, a twofold proposition: that there is such a thing as a specifically North American light, with physical and moral properties not quite to be paralleled elsewhere, and that that light, and those properties, were captured once and for …

Hostess with the Mostest

For more than fifty years—from 1892, to be precise, until shortly after the end of World War II—it was a safe bet that at any hour of the day or night someone in Paris was talking about Misia Sert. Among those for whom poetry, music, art, and the dance were …

The Words of Van Gogh

Flaubert is not Flaubert until we have read his letters to Louise Colet. Yet Flaubert died in 1880, whereas the full text of those letters did not appear until 1926. There will always be such cases. By comparison, the editing and publishing of the complete letters of Vincent van Gogh …

Life Studies

For the last twenty and more years of his life—he died in 1976 at the age of eighty—Leonid Berman seemed the very picture of contentment. He was not “a famous artist,” but he had patrons who loved his paintings and could never get enough of them. He had a marriage—to …

The Malraux Show

It was difficult to be very young in the European summer of 1938 and not feel about André Malraux as Henry James felt about James Russell Lowell: that he was “the poet of pluck and purpose and action” who “commemorated all manly pieties and affections.” Malraux at that time radiated …