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Julian Barnes: Keeping and Eye Open: Essays on Art

The descriptive art criticism has fallen into reputation, but lives at its best in fiction and literary essayism. Julian Barnes' review of a pair of shoes in a painting by Manet shows the value of thorough and sustained observation. 

Julian Barnes: Keeping and Eye Open: Essays on Art. Jonathan Cape, 2015 bok_KeepingAnEyeOpen_BarnesWhen JMW Turner's painting Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhon Coming on was exhibited in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1877, the bourgeoisie was already so familiar with painting through the aesthetic and critic John Ruskin's poetic rendering of it, that the museum felt compelled to equip the exhibition hall with copies of Ruskin's text. While the audience evoked the text's image for their inner eye – "Purple and blue, the lurid shadows of the hollow breakers are cast upon the mist of the night, which gathers cold and low, advancing like the shadow of death upon the guilty ship as it labors amidst the lightning of the sea ”- they could glare up at the murky tableau that hung on the wall. How one experienced this early example of a multimedia exhibition is not known, but most of the city's newspapers at least stated that the painting did not measure up to the description. It's hard to imagine a similar one. . .

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