If you have ever wondered what makes a piece of art a masterpiece, then Monica Bohm-Duchen's The Private Life of a Masterpiece is the perfect place to start. Bohm-Duchen sets out to look at eight "extremely famous works of Western art and examine them in detail from as many angles as possible," exploring "their origins, evolution and context, but also looking at their rich and varied afterlife." The result is a lavishly illustrated account of Michelangelo's David, da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Goya's The Third of May, 1808, Manet's Olympia, van Gogh's Sunflowers, Munch's The Scream, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and finally Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm. Obviously, in a book so broad and ambitious, there is much to dispute, particularly in the choice of images (surely Monet would have provided a better image than Manet). Bohm-Duchen also bemoans her inability to discover any iconic female artists (or non-Western images, for that matter). However, the book is excellent in covering the creation and fine detail of its eight masterpieces, and is particularly strong regarding Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Munch, if less convincing on Manet, Picasso, and Pollock. Bohm-Duchen is also less than persuasive in explaining just why these images have become so famous, but perhaps that is the most difficult question of all to answer. This book will not amaze the experts, but as a well-written approach to iconic western art works, it is hard to beat. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk
From Library Journal
This companion volume to a BBC2 series of the same name delves into eight famous artworks selected by freelance author Bohm-Duchen: one Renaissance statue, Michelangelo's "David"; one Renaissance painting, Leonardo's "Mona Lisa"; four 19th-century paintings, Goya's "Third of May, 1808," Manet's "Olympia," Van Gogh's "Sunflowers," and Munch's "Scream"; and two 20th-century paintings, Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon" and Pollock's "Autumn Rhythm." Interesting aspects of their production are noted; for example, American artist Pollock cited Navajo sand painters as an influence on his drip technique. While Bohm-Duchen acknowledges that others might not agree with her particular choices, she does succeed in showing why these eight artworks have become iconic if not in their own time, then through time, as illustrated by "Sunflowers," which set a record in 1987 when it sold for almost $40 million. Bohm-Duchen also discusses the paintings' influences on commercial culture; for instance, the advertising poster for the film Home Alone shows Macaulay Culkin in the same screaming pose as Munch's image. Mainly intended for the lay reader, this is recommended for larger public libraries that collect comprehensively in art. Anne Marie Lane, American Heritage Ctr. Lib., Laramie, WY
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