Graham-Dixon is touted by the voluble Robert Hughes as the "most gifted English art critic of his generation." Although the contents of this superb compilation of (mostly) exhibition reviews have previously appeared in the British daily Independent, where the author has a regular column, they are far better than most art journalism. Like Hughes, Graham-Dixon writes in an impressively learned and opinionated fashion, but he has less of a predilection for the rhetorical cri de coeur. Still, he's unafraid of expressing an unpopular view, as in daring to begin an essay on Rembrandt by calmly asserting that he was "a thoroughly inconsistent and frequently inept artist." But he fleshes out this last statement by gracefully articulating how its evident truthfulness undermines recent controversial attempts to deattribute many works previously thought to be Rembrandt's own. He's gently convincing in coming down on the side of old-style connoisseurship vs. X-ray science in evaluating creative authorship. These 53 essays are wonderful reading for any art lover and should attract a deservedly wide audience. Highly recommended.Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L., Cal.
Graham-Dixon, the art critic for the British newspaper the Independent, notes in the introduction to this collection of his terse critiques of museum exhibits and gallery shows that they were written not "for posterity but for tomorrow's newspaper." That makes them more, rather than less, impressive: Whether discussing Egon Schiele's disturbing nudes, Cézanne's turbulent apprenticeship, Claude Lorrain's "radiant, melancholy" landscapes, the "graceless, scurrilous, irreverent" late art of Picasso, or the ideology of nationalism and hygiene shaping Vermeer's paintings, Graham-Dixon is exact and persuasive. He renders the specifics of a work of art with great precision (and, often, sympathy), and matches the specifics with short, deft passages on each artist's background, tastes, intentions, and career. He doesn't mind sharing his enthusiasms, is witty without ever seeming jaded, and can usually find a metaphor or image to nicely sum up the particular impact of a work of art. The hasty origins of the pieces sometimes intrudes; there's little room for documenting assertions. Nonetheless, this is a stimulating, often surprising debut collection.