John Updike (1932–2009) was born in Shillington, Pennsylvania. In 1954 he began to publish in The New Yorker, where he continued to contribute short stories, poems, and criticism until his death. His major work was the set of four novels chronicling the life of Harry “Rabbit: Angstrom, he two of which, Rabbit is Richand Rabbit at Rest, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His last books were the novel The Widows of Eastwick and Due Considerations, a collection of his essays and criticism.

A Wee Irish Suite

Paris–Dublin, at Night Cobwebs of orange pinpricks tinge the void beneath our roaring wings; myriad lives give off their sullen glow. A brighter gnat, a helicopter beaming traffic news, slides sideways through the thickest of the swarm; thin filaments connect the villages that mar …

‘The Clarity of Things’

The National Endowment for the Humanities, together with the American Library Association, has launched in 2008 a program that will supply classrooms and public libraries with reproductions of significant American art, one example on each side of twenty high-quality posters, forty examples in all, under the overall title Picturing America.

Nocturnes

Impressionism, our impression is, proceeded by instinct, its stabs of high color pursuing what the eyes of Monet and Renoir and Pissarro and Sisley found in the open air, as sunlight’s spectrum flitted across the sight of haystacks, poppy-dotted fields, and rippled water. Analysis was left to Postimpressionism, whose varied …

Gold & Geld

The Gustav Klimt exhibition, which opened on October 18, 2007, will fill the Neue Galerie until the end of June next year. Its attention-riveting center is Klimt’s 1907 portrait of the prominent Viennese society figure and art patron Adele Bloch-Bauer (see illustration), executed …

The Purest of Styles

Renzo Piano’s chaste blond addition to the Morgan Library holds for the remainder of the year, in the Morgan Stanley Gallery East, a small but intense exhibition centered on the twenty-two letters written in 1887– 1889 by Vincent van Gogh to Émile Bernard. Bernard, who was only nineteen at the …

Serra’s Triumph

No doubt about it, the show is a triumph, the biggest interactive art event in Manhattan since Christo’s saffron flags fluttered in a wintry Central Park over two years ago. The day your reviewer attended Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years, a sunny Monday in June, the two large sculptures in …

Frankie Laine (1913–2007)

The Stephens’ Sweet Shop, 1949. Bald Walt at work, “butterflying” hot dogs— splitting them lengthwise for the griddle and serving them up in hamburger buns— while Boo, his smiling, slightly anxious wife (a rigid perm and excess, too-bright lipstick), provides to teen-aged guzzlers at …

After Katrina

Twenty-four chromogenic prints each measuring three by five feet: the exhibition begins with six of them in the Metropolitan’s Tisch Galleries, the long upstairs corridor customarily devoted to etchings, drawings, and photographs, and continues, after two left turns, in the modest spaces of the Howard Gilman Gallery. The show concerns …

The Artful Clarks

The two collecting Clark brothers, confusingly, are known as Sterling and Stephen, like a pair of twins, though they were born five years apart and their full names, Robert Sterling Clark and Stephen Carlton Clark, offered nominal alternatives. An exhibition on the brothers and their collections opened this summer in …

The Artist as Prospector

This engaging, farraginous show at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, on Fifth Avenue, invites the viewer to think of the nineteenth-century landscape artist, usually envisioned as the independent producer of a luxury artifact, as, instead, a tool of commerce and real estate development. Frederic Church, who has recently played a …

Lucian Freud

Yes, the body is a hideous thing, the feet and genitals especially, the human face not far behind. Blue veins make snakes on the backs of hands, and mar the marbled glassy massiveness of thighs. Such clotted weight’s worth seeing after centuries (Pygmalion to …

Love of Fact

Eighteen oil paintings displayed in two wood-paneled and parquet-floored rooms on the second floor of the National Academy Museum on Fifth Avenue show Frederic Edwin Church, the most successful and ostentatiously skillful of mid-nineteenth-century American landscapists, to have been, when he let himself go in his quick on-site oil sketches, …

Determined Spirit

For sheer viewer discomfort, the show of Van Gogh drawings at the Metropolitan Museum has been topped in my experience only by the once-in-a-millennium assembly of twenty-three Vermeer paintings at Washington’s National Gallery in 1995. In both cases, too many people jealously clustered and jostled within inches of hallowed works …

Beyond Real

Not only is Max Ernst the subject of an extensive and eye-challenging retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he is winning retrospective publicity as a romantic principal in a shameless, artistically high-powered ménage à trois in the early 1920s, lyrically and speculatively described by the documentary filmmaker Robert McNab …

The Blessings of the Sun

When films ceased to be silent, a migration of eastern writers, playwrights, and wits swarmed to the Golden State, to write scripts for the studios. Though it wasn’t exactly the Donner Party, its annals are not happy ones. One thinks of Fitzgerald and his quixotic, dashed hopes of bringing his …

Making Faces

As a painter, Gilbert Stuart was just barely American. The son of a newly immigrant Scots snuff miller, he was born in 1755 in Rhode Island, and was soon moved to cosmopolitan Newport, a flourishing port active in the triangular trade that turned molasses into rum and rum into African …

Libido Lite

For some years, including the months of 1929 when they jointly composed Is Sex Necessary?, James Thurber and E.B. White shared, during office hours, a small room at The New Yorker. White had already become the darling of the magazine’s editor, Harold Ross; it was through White’s suggestion, in 1927, …

Street Arab

Childe Hassam is a curious name, suggesting exotic antecedents; in truth, “Hassam” is a corruption of the English surname “Horsham,” and the future painter was named Frederick after his father and Childe (meaning a youth of noble birth, as in Byron’s Childe Harold) after an uncle. Frederick, born in 1859, …

Chasing After Providence

The Eighth Day was published in late March of 1967, three weeks before Thornton Wilder’s seventieth birthday. Reviews were mixed, from Edmund Wilson’s calling it “the best thing he ever wrote” to Edith Oliver’s judgment, in The New Yorker, that “none of the characters, major or minor, is essentially credible …

Singular in Everything

The strangeness begins with his name, which was properly Domenikos Theotokopoulos; he always signed his works thus, often in Greek characters, but in Italy he was called Il Greco, and in Spain Domenico Greco or El Griego. The solecism El Greco is what stuck. Born in Crete, trained in Italy, …

Logic Is Beautiful

“Up like a rocket, down like a stick”—thus, roughly, the multinational career of the Polish-American sculptor Elie Nadelman (1882–1946), whose present extensive exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York projects, despite the jaunty flair and exquisite finish of many of its items, a shadow of melancholy. Nadelman was captivated …

‘A Lone Left Thing’

The something woebegone about Marsden Hartley—that long ponderous face, those haunted pale eyes, those wide-brimmed black hats—has dampened his reputation. Born of English immigrant parents in the dismal mill town of Lewiston, Maine, he was wounded by the death of his mother when he was eight and a subsequent dispersal …

O Beautiful for Spacious Skies

The splendid show American Sublime, which originated at London’s Tate Museum and will travel from summer in Philadelphia to autumn in Minneapolis, raises, with its article-free title, the question, Why does one hear often of the American Sublime but never of, say, the French or Chinese Sublime? The very word, …

New Kind on the Block

Two questions come quickly to mind: (A) Does Fifth Avenue’s “Museum Mile”—stretching from the Frick Collection at 70th Street to El Museo del Barrio on 104th—need another museum, and (B) What will the new museum, the Neue Galerie New York, at Fifth and 86th, do for its next show? This …

The Thing Itself

It felt not too strange, flying down from Boston a month to the day after the World Trade Center disaster, braving the beefed-up security in the city’s disgraced Logan Airport (tall state troopers in blue jodhpurs and diagonal belts, pink-cheeked boys in reserve camouflage outfits, grizzled cops squinting at a …

Hawthorne Down on the Farm

Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in the socialistic community of Brook Farm, in West Roxbury, eight or nine miles to the southwest of Boston, from April to November of 1841, with some weeks away in September. That so reclusive and skeptical a spirit might make his home in an idealistic farming commune …

The Imaginary Builder

Giovanni Battista Piranesi was a frustrated architect; the most notable of his few commissions was for the restoration of the Church of Santa Maria del Priorato in Rome. Born in Venice in 1720, he moved to Rome in his early twenties and turned to the production of souvenir views, or …

‘Therefore I Print’

The Metropolitan’s Blake exhibition originated at the greatly enlarged Tate Gallery in London, and included over twice as many items as its American version; such a vast sampling, served up scarcely more than two decades after another comprehensive show at the Tate in 1978, reveals an inordinate British affection for …