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Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art Hardcover – December 11, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Fairfield Porter, the lyrical American painter of tense slices of family life, was an extraordinarily complex and conflicted person. Born in 1917, Porter finally achieved a measure of fame in the 1950s as part of the second wave of New York School artists--only to be eclipsed as a realist painter a few years later by the brashly ironic crew of pop artists.

Born into a patrician family, Porter lived most of his life on a dwindling trust fund, in a succession of sparsely furnished rural houses that he kept escaping to hang out with artists and writers in New York City. (He also wrote poetry and art criticism.) Although his political sympathies led him to dream of being a great muralist, his discovery of the intimate domestic scenes of Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard proved the key to his mature style.

Porter's immediate family populate many of his best paintings, yet he was the most ambivalent of family men. He had five children with his long-suffering wife, Anne, a poet who survives him, but skipped town when each one was born. To complicate things further, he discovered in midlife that he was in love with the poet James Schuyler, who became a perpetual houseguest long after the brief affair was over.

Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, by Justin Spring, is not the sort of art book you plop on the coffee table to browse "some day." Modestly sized and handsomely designed--with just enough good-quality reproductions (27 in color) to whet your appetite for the way Porter's seductive palette sets off his intensely isolated figures--this is a page-turner to read in bed. --Cathy Curtis

From Library Journal

The artistic reputation of American artist Fairfield Porter (1907-75) has never quite reached the mythic proportions of many of his contemporaries. Porter's intimate representational works, often portraits of his family and friends, however, hold their own as American contributions to the art of this century. Born to wealth, his life in art encompassed not only his painting but also work as a critic and a poet. Spring (The Essential Jackson Pollock) captures both Porter's tempestuous personal life-mingling the art and literary worlds of the century-and the essence of his art. For those who are just discovering it, this biography will provide an excellent overview of his life and work, this is recommended for all collections with an interest in American Art.
Martin R Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (December 11, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300076371
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300076370
  • Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 7.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #589,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Justin Spring is a New York based writer specializing in twentieth-century American art and culture. His biography SECRET HISTORIAN is a 2010 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a 2010 National Book Award Finalist, an Amazon Top 10 Biography of the Year, an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book for 2011,winner of the 2011 Lamda Literary Award in Biography; the winner of the 2011 Randy Shilts Prize in Non-Fiction from the Publishing Triangle; and winner of the 2011 Geoff Mains Non-Fiction Prize of the National Leather Association. It is also an ARTFORUM Top 10 of 2010 pick and a Top 10 Book of the Year for 2010 in the San Francisco Chronicle.

For a full review of SECRET HISTORIAN by Mark Harris in the New York Times Book Review:

For a feature on Justin Spring's discovery of the Steward Archive, by Patti Cohen in the New York Times:

For a slide show in the New York Times about the Steward Archive:

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Charles T. Bauer on March 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book displays great beauty: the paper is beautiful, the writing is flawless and the subject matter (the art work) is cool and elegant. But the artist's life was a difficult & complex equation of contractions: he was born patrician, yet he was a leftist (he attended Socialist demonstrations in a chauffeur driven limousine); he was highly verbal and intellectual, yet he painted the coolest (visually abstract) emotion; he made realist art in an abstract art time; he was married yet he had sex with men; he was surrounded by a loving family, yet he remained remote and distant; he lived in the country, yet he was always running to the city; he was bright and balanced, yet his best (lifelong) friend was mentally deranged; he made the most stable art from the most unstable life; he was slender and active, yet he died early of a surprise heart attack; he was on the verge of greatness (and nearly penniless much of the time), but cared little for fame and less for money. This assortment of profound conflicts make for a great story, and the art works themselves tower above everything in their lofty remove, quiet dignity, and timeless spirit. Find out why that is so (and what it may mean for the history of 20th century art criticism) and read this haunting and very personal book you'll not forget.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mark Rushton on August 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Justin Spring's biography on Fairfield Porter, A Life In Art, is one of the most difficult and disturbing biographies I've read in some time. It's incredibly thorough, as if no piece of information was left out.
Most biographies are bound to reveal new information, but the amount here is overwhelming. Other reviews here on Amazon bring out the detail, so there's no point repeating it. If you're only familiar with Porter from an artisitic standpoint the biography of his family life, lifestyle, manners, and politics will be shocking and difficult to bring together.
While in the middle of reading this book I had to let it go for a few months and read other things then go back to it. Porter's activities in the late 1940's to the mid 1950's were especially difficult to reconcile considering the subject matter of his output.
It seems the frankness in tone of the biography is totally in tune with Porter's ways of communicating. I suspect if Porter had lived longer then such an autobiography probably would have been as revealing.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Irwin Weinberger on February 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Justin Spring's biography of Fairfield Porter fills in so many missing clues about this artist's life. I have been a devotee to the art of Porter for twenty years and after this reading have come away with a broader understanding of this complex man who painted such stunningly beautiful paintings. Spring has really done his research with informative quotes from Porter's wife, children, and friends. Although the author digs deep into the artist's personal life I never get the feeling that it is sensationalized or cheapened. But rather like Porter's best work it bends over backwards to paint an honest picture.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ward J. Lamb VINE VOICE on June 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fairfield Porter's paintings have a strange pale quality, and they are flooded with light.His subjects are upper class domestic,and many of them are pale and etherial. He painted his family friends,and their pvt haunts beautifully. Little did most people realize he was a torn person,and probably can be better understood by this reading.I think what amazed me the most about this book was the incredible latent homosexual exsistence that paralled and co-existed within Porter's very homey and simmering homogenous realism.The bio details his social, artistic and private relationships with a younger generation of artists. This book is a portrait of a man at war with his sexuality. His ptngs are beautifully orchestrated, sensual, understated. A must for those that want to know more about Porter's life, and the different sides that lived inside him. A good read!I love artist bios.This is a worthy effort.
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