From Publishers Weekly
Readers may find an entirely new appreciation for art and its creators after reading Rachlin's dishy tales of the people behind and beyond 26 famous canvases. Using Caraveggio's David with the Head of Goliath, Rachlin explores how an artist might "deal on canvas with his own emotional crisis," in this case the years Caravaggio spent as a fugitive following a victorious (but deadly) duel. In A Convalescent, a painting by artist James Tissot, Rachlin sees an artist "unwittingly predicting on canvas the strange circumstances that...befall him many years later," a story of love, death and the supernatural. And using the Mona Lisa, Rachlin deconstructs the perfect crime: the masterpiece's 1911 heist from the Louvre. The only problem with this fun title are the black and white painting reproductions, which make Rachlin's frequently hyper-detailed descriptions a bit frustrating. Still, it's an entertaining read full of good, gossipy tales for art aficionados or those interested in sounding like one.
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Great paintings often have great backstories, and in this lively, gossipy book, prolific Rachlin takes full advantage, amping up the drama in these mostly familiar art controversies. There isn't much serious criticism here; instead he takes an almost pulp-fictional approach to tales of art theft, vandalism, public trials, and private inspirations. We learn about the burglary of Leonardo's Mona Lisa
from the Louvre in 1911, followed by its bizarre recovery two years later; three separate attacks (by vandals wielding knifes and sulfuric acid) on Rembrandt's The Night Watch
; and the flight of the outlaw Caravaggio and how his troubles might have influenced his David with the Head of Goliath
. Best of all, Rachlin follows the line "whatever happened to . . .," as in the case of John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark
. The real-life subject of the painting's depiction of a boy on the verge of having his leg bitten off survived his ordeal and went on to become a Revolutionary War-era American hater and English nobleman, despite his peg leg. Kevin NanceCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved