Art memoir of the week
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Stuck at home and want to read a vivid book that’s more living art than dead art history? An eyewitness memoir might do the trick. They don’t come better than Patti Smith’s beautifully written, utterly intimate and frank account of her love for Robert Mapplethorpe. This not just one of the best books you can read on contemporary art but a classic of American literature.
• Just Kids is published by Bloomsbury.
More art books to self-isolate with
Life With Picasso by Françoise Gilot (with Carlton Lake)
The woman who survived Picasso shares her up-close account of an artistic titan who was a domestic beast.
• Life With Picasso is published by Little, Brown.
The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon by Daniel Farson
This tremendously entertaining, often hilarious book takes you to the heart of bohemian Soho and, like a Nabokov novel, tells you as much about the author as his subject. A sleazy masterpiece.
• The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon is published by Penguin.
Man With a Blue Scarf by Martin Gayford
There can’t have been a better way to know Lucian Freud than sitting for a portrait by him. Gayford combines a day-by-day account of this experience with acute critical insight to create a serious book that goes down like an oyster from Wheeler’s.
• Man With a Blue Scarf is published by Thames and Hudson.
My Last Breath by Luis Buñuel
The great film director’s memoirs may not be entirely reliable but his sharp, cruel pen-portraits of his collaborator Salvador Dalí and other surrealists are a wicked delight. His recipe for the perfect martini may also be of assistance in these tense times.
• My Last Breath is published by Penguin.
Image of the week
Buskers perform to an audience of none outside the National Gallery in London. The gallery is just one of many worldwide to have shut its doors for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus outbreak. Read our list of major cancellations of museums, festivals and more.
What we learned
Masterpiece of the week
Sunflowers, 1888, by Vincent Van Gogh
Coronavirus has closed most museums and galleries in the UK, but some works of art are so vibrant they blaze even as reproductions. The rugged surface of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, as if scarred by the passion with which he loaded each brush stroke, gives this painting a substantial and organic presence that can be felt almost as strongly on the National Gallery’s website as in its real presence. (The Sunflowers were put under quarantine in Tokyo in late February, as part of 60 masterpieces on tour.) It would be fatuous right now to show some escapist summer scene as a pick-me-up. Van Gogh’s joy in these yellow flowers, however, has a hard-won, desperate quality. He painted them soon after fleeing Paris, where drink and despair were killing him, for the south of France. He found a little house he liked in Arles, and painted a series of sunflower decorations all saturated, this one perhaps most of all, with his sheer wonder at a southern light and heat he’d never experienced before. This a reverent prayer to life itself.
• National Gallery website.
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