My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Release Date: November 1, 2022
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In this book, Mancoff discusses a dozen works of art considered masterpieces, explaining how the paintings came to be, what influenced the artist, and what influence these paintings had on art or culture that contributed to their widespread designation as masterpieces. This background information is presented by way of helping to understand what it is about these paintings that made them stand out.
It’s an interesting selection. There are paintings, such as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Hokusai’s “The Great Wave,” that one would imagine being on any short list of artistic masterpieces. There are others that one could imagine making the cut or not, but which are certainly iconic (e.g. Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”) But there are also painters who one would expect to see included on the list, but whose most well-known or iconic work isn’t the one presented – e.g. Klimt’s “Woman in Gold” is discussed instead of “The Kiss” and Van Gogh’s “Fifteen Sunflowers” is included rather than “Starry Night.” The most controversial inclusion is the last, “Michelle Obama” by Amy Sherald – not because it’s not a beautiful painting and interestingly arranged for a portrait (which are usually pretty boring to a neophyte such as me,) but because it hasn’t been around for sufficiently long to know whether it will lodge itself in the collective conscious the way all the other entries have, so earning the designation of masterpiece. [It’s also owned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and thus hasn’t had the commercial distinction by which masterpieces are usually determined – i.e. being auctioned for insane sums of money – e.g. Warhol’s soup cans (which are included in the book.)] That said, I liked that there were some “outliers,” as it was more opportunity to learn something new.
The book not only includes pictures of artworks as well as closeup details, but also pictures of works that were influenced by each and sometimes photos relevant to the story behind the paintings.
I enjoyed reading this book and learned a great deal about these important works of art.
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