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Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought) Hardcover – October 31, 1995
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From School Library Journal
Grade 6 Up-Judging from the popularity of television talk shows and supermarket tabloids, Americans love gossip. As the title suggests, this collection of anecdotes about 15 famous artists of European heritage (and Hokusai) is gossipy. Tidbits flood the brief biographies: Leonardo's and Michelangelo's homosexuality, Van Gogh's "ear episode," Bruegel's fondness for practical jokes, Cassatt's support of women's suffrage, etc. These morsels are integrated into chapters with an easy-flowing sequence of short paragraphs, and supplemented with an "Artworks" section that adds a few pithy comments about several specific pieces, such as O'Keeffe's bone paintings or Kollowitz's large granite memorial for her son Peter. Hewitt supplies a full-page watercolor and colored-pencil portrait and vignette for each artist. These are friendly representations that also include personal objects like Matisse's fiddle, Chagall's village, Duchamp's snow shovel, etc. They add pleasant visual attractions to the lighthearted approach in this inviting introduction to a few of the Big Names in our artworld. A page of artistic terms is also included.
Kenneth Marantz, Art Education Department, Ohio State University, Columbus
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 4^-6. From the eclectic series that began with Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) (1993) comes a volume devoted to visual artists. The subject seems well suited to Krull's format: informative short biographies that focus on the subjects' personal lives and eccentricities rather than chronologies of their masterpieces. A few notes on major artworks follow each biography. Among the 19 artists discussed are Leonardo, Bruegel, Cassatt, Van Gogh, Picasso, O'Keefe, Dali, Noguchi, Rivera, Kahlo, and Warhol. Each chapter begins with one of Hewitt's distinctive portrait paintings, handsome caricatures of the artists and a few significant or distinctive objects indicating their interests and individual traits. A lively, entertaining presentation. Carolyn Phelan
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Unfortunately, the foreward is the best part of the book. There are no pictures of the art and the narrative is really choppy and mentions homosexuality too many times. I don't care if someone is or isn't gay, that's not my beef, the issue is more my kid isn't ready to learn about art with a side of gender politics. And the mentions of the artists' sexuality are really off-the-wall and do not add anything to biographies.
It's just kind of 'he didn't have many friends and people avoided him because he was a homosexual.' That's the level of the narrative, which for me, as a parent, left me thinking 'WHY bother to mention it at all?' Why not use the space to talk more about the art?
And then there were the (young) lovers who were mentioned once and then never again. So-and-so lived with artist X and then the biography continues, never mentions so-and-so again but brings up new people living with the artists and it's like, what happened? How is this person relevant?
Very bumpy narrative, a really off putting way of discussing artists' love lives and no pictures of the art.
This is a do not buy for us. It's going straight into the garbage. No one needs to read it.
The book contains 16 Chapters on the following 17 artists in birth year order: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), Peter Bruegel (1525?-1569), Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625), Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Mary Cassatt (1845-1926), Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), William H. Johnson (1901-1970), Salvador Dali (1904-1989), Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), Diego Rivera (1886-1957) & Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), Andy Warhol (1928-1987).
It contains a variety of gossipy tidbits about the artists' lives. The cross selection of artists is an interesting combination. Krull introduced me to three artists of which I was not familiar (Anguissola, Kollwitz and Johnson). As a result Krull has whet my appetite and I will now seek out further information. Hewett"s illustrations are entertainly and cleverly done. I am especially particular to her rendition of Hokusai (he is wearing a kimino with both "The Wave" and "Mt. Fuji" on it).
I'm not convinced that the book is intended for young readers (ages 9-12). The gossip is on occasion adult in content. No actual prints of any of the artist's paintings are included, which was a surprise given the high cost of the book. This proves cruelly aggravating given that Krull references select paintings with accompanying notes.
Additional tidbits missing from the book: Dali did the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound" starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. Chagall's "The Dead Man" was the inspiration for the title of the Broadway play "Fiddler on the roof." Rivera caused a scandal when he painted the portrait of Lenin in a Rockefeller Center mural in '33. In addition, he used his clout to enable Leon Trotsky to live in Mexico. Two years later Kahlo introduced Trotsky to her friend, a Stalinist agent, who killed him with an ice-axe.
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