The Private Life of a Masterpiece: Uncovering the Forgotten Secrets and Hidden Life Histories of Iconic Works of Art

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9780520233782: The Private Life of a Masterpiece: Uncovering the Forgotten Secrets and Hidden Life Histories of Iconic Works of Art

The world's most well known works of art are both instantly familiar and profoundly mysterious. What has made these images so popular, and how did they come into existence? The Private Life of a Masterpiece answers these questions by delving into the secrets of iconic works of art dating from 1501 to 1950. Piecing together a trail of clues, it examines each work from conception through completion to afterlife, detailing how the commission came about, the preparation undertaken by the artist, the way the work was executed, how the finished work was received, and its influence on other artists. We learn, for example, that Leonardo devised a new form of perspective when painting the Mona Lisa, and that four centuries later Picasso was detained for stealing the portrait from the Louvre; that Goya painted The Third of May 1808 as a criticism of the monarchy but nonetheless offered it to the king as a gift; that Van Gogh's Sunflowers owes much to improvements in the postal system; that Munch's The Scream was influenced by the Incas; and that Jackson Pollock's paintings were promoted by the CIA. Along the way, we also learn about each artist's life, including the struggles with family, lovers, patrons, and critics.

The works featured in this book met with a variety of reactions when first unveiled, and the author details them all, from admiration and respect to horror and contempt. Now readers can judge for themselves.

Beautifully illustrated and lucidly written, The Private Life of a Masterpiece offers an innovative and compelling introduction to the extraordinary stories contained in the history of art. It will enthrall all those who wish to know more about this fascinating subject.

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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 the Inside Flap:

"The Private Life of a Masterpiece presents a close reading of the significance of these masterpieces and the reasons each has been granted iconic status today. Lively and entertaining."—Dianne Macleod, author of Art and the Victorian Middle Class

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Bohm-Duchen, Monica
Verlag: University of California Press (2002)
ISBN 10: 0520233786 ISBN 13: 9780520233782
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