Book review

published by Skira (240 pages, $37.15)

Reviewed by ERNEST SMITH

Numerous books on painting have been published over the past two decades dealing, sometimes successfully, with the impressionist movement, but none I feel more so than Skira's Impressionists and Impressionism. This handsome publication at first glance appears to be another production in that long line of big books suitable, for the most part, as conversation pieces destined for the coffee table. But Impressionists and Impressionism is not one of these. The book deals in considerable depth with the late nineteenth century painters, Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro and Cézanne.

The main text by Maria and Godfrey Blunden presents a positive, well-balanced and sensitive treatment of an inventive and socially complex group of artists infused with the spirit of revolutionary social change within a society gripped with the fever of republican democracy - an antiestablishment direction.

Kenneth Clark wrote: 'Impressionism achieves something more than a technical advance. It expressed a real and valuable ethical position. As Count Nieuwerkerke correctly observed, it was the painting of democrats. Impressionism is the perfect expression of democratic humanism, of the good life which was, until recently, thought to be within reach of all.'

The main text is well complemented by a Synoptic Sequence of witness accounts by painters, their friends, writers and critics of the time such as Ingres, Redon, Millet, Baudelaire, Zola, Venturi, Rivière, Duret. These assist the reader in a greater understanding of the business transactions, personal and public problems and arguments, that stem from a multiplicity of attitudes and approaches, brought to light through a new found freedom of expression.

Handsomely illustrated with superb colour plates, generous in size and number, supported by black and white material with particular interest placed by the authors on contemporary photographs of artists and their friends, Impressionists and Impressionism gives the reader a good account, through a wide range of visual material, of the changes taking place during the late nineteenth century. An added bonus is the dictionary-index of persons and places and biographical survey, all of which add up to a thoroughly pleasing, comprehensive, scholarly and enjoyable reading experience. Impressionists and Impressionism is a superb example of twentieth century book architecture.