The lives of artists have formed a staple of art history from Vasari in the sixteenth century to Alex Danchev in the twenty-first. Current styles of art history may frown on biographies of artists. They smack too much of the hero artist and side-step the social construction of art. Yet the genre shows no sign of wilting. In our time we have such masterly works as John Richardson’s multi-volume Life of Picasso (1991–2007) and Hilary Spurling’s revelatory two volumes on Henri Matisse (1998–2005). On a different plane, Frances Spalding’s lives of Vanessa Bell (1983), Duncan Grant (1997), and the Pipers (John and Myfanwy, 2009) have done much to resuscitate their reputations. We have good lives of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, to say nothing of such massifsas the 900 pages of Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s Van Gogh: The Life (2011), a grim trawl through the lower depths.
Patrick McCaughey is former Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford Connecticut, and the Yale Center for British Art. His most recent book is Strange Country: Why Australian Painting Matters (2014). His other works include Voyage and Landfall: The Art of Jan Senbergs (2006). He writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement and Australian Book Review. He lives and works on the banks of the Quinnipiac River in New Haven, and is currently editing Fred Williams’s diaries (1963–70) for MUP.
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