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The Private Life of a Masterpiece: Uncovering the Forgotten Secrets and Hidden Life Histories of Iconic Works of Art Hardcover – April 15, 2002

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Amazon.com Review

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
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; unknown edition (April 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520233786
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520233782
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,543,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Jana L.Perskie HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Author Monica Bohm-Duchen delves into eight famous works of art, and the lives of their creators, for "The Private Life Of A Masterpiece." She explores here the popularity of these masterworks. What has caused them to move so many viewers so deeply? The stories behind their creation and the history of each one, along with corresponding information about their respective artists, are also discussed. Dating from 1501 to 1950, the artworks selected are: Michelangelo's "David"; Leonardo's "Mona Lisa"; Francisco de Goya's "Third of May, 1808," Edouard Manet's "Olympia," Vincent Van Gogh's "Sunflowers," Edvard Munch's "Scream"; and two 20th-century paintings, Pablo Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon" and Jackson Pollock's "Autumn Rhythm." In all, there are 150 black and white photographs and 10 line illustrations in this 240 page book - a real gem for any art lover to treasure. The principal commonality in the pieces chosen for the publication, apart from being well known art icons, is that all eight strike resounding chords within viewers worldwide.

Each painting, and the "David," have their own, in-depth biography. Ms. Bohm-Duchen's rich analytical narrative is what makes this volume so special. This is not a dry text at all. As a matter if fact, I found it to be a real page-turner. The author has thoroughly researched every piece, and writes fascinating commentary on their creation. I was especially intrigued by the text documenting the various methods the artists used to prepare and execute their work. Also, of particular interest are the historical art reviews - how the finished masterpieces were received by the public.
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Format: Hardcover
Monica Bohm-Duchen has taken 8 famous paintings and told me the story of both the artist and the painting with the understanding that there really is no separation between the artist and his or her painting/s. How I hope that she writes a sequel, another sequel, another sequel! (This time I hope she includes women artists.)
Especially, this book speaks to artists and art lovers. We artists know that each painting is a spirit that is very much alive.
Unlike most book discussions of great art, Bohm-Duchen's is a page turner and almost a voyeuristic glimpse into the private lives of 8 artists, not so easily gleaned in the retrospectives and other tomes that speak of the art of these famous artists.I got an amazing pictural look at Jackson Pollock and gained a greater respect for his artistic composition and methodolody. I discovered the history of madness of the van Gogh family here and not in literally dozens of other books on van Gogh and his body of work. Every other book merely said Theo, his benefactor and art gallery owner brother, died about six months after van Gogh and never mentioned madness as the cause, or that his youngest brother killed himself at 32 or that his favorite sister, Wil, also spent time committed to a mental asylum.
Bravo! Every artist and art lover and artist-to-be needs to read this book now. This book is a gift of joy you give yourself and others.
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