Monday, November 20, 2006

A book too far...

One of the best books published in 2004 was Taschen's '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die'. I'm interested in film, but there are big gaps in my knowledge and this wonderful book gave me the opportunity to try movies as diverse as The Verdict, Lantana, The Consequences of Love, Soylent Green and Antanarjuat.

Then came '1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die' which, apart from crushing my self-image as a reasonably well-read person, was an exhilirating selection of both the familiar and the obscure.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, Taschen have now made the grave error of applying this formula to paintings. At first I thought it was a great idea, but the reality is a selection of images that have been reduced to a size that renders many of them meaningless. If I haven't seen a book or film I can easily remedy that with a few clicks of a mouse, but this option doesn't apply to painting.

Let's take Holman Hunt's painting The Scapegoat. For years I never understood this painting. I'd often seen reproductions in books, but it always struck me as garish example of Victorian melodrama. Then a few years ago I saw the real thing in an exhibition at the Tate and I realised how wrong I'd been. The picture was much larger than I'd anticipated and it was impossible not to be swept away by the Holman Hunt's bold, visionary genius. But if you look at printed representations of The Scapegoat this is what you get:

Three completely different versions - a few more and I could do an Andy Warhol. The point is that the printed page cannot do justice to the majority of works of art and although there are some nice chunky monographs out there, the Taschen book isn't one of them. If I was rich and didn't have a family to consider, perhaps this book would inspire me to visit the great art galleries of the world, but as an armchair read it is a great disappointment.

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