Every painting is like a living being. It is born—created by an artist. It lives in a community—in a museum or on a family's wall. A painting may be passed on to other families or individuals. Some pieces of art may be kidnapped, die in a fire, or simply disappear like runaways. Like all living beings, paintings influence their viewers, but unlike inconsistent humans, good art always enhances life, and brings beauty and joy to its surroundings.
Collette Hemingway has written a marvelous book on Hemingway's art collection. More than a simple listing of Hemingway's art collection, in his time is a monogram of remarkable completeness, skillfully written with the talent and eye of a painter who has a PhD in Art History from Harvard, and is married to Hemingway's grandson Séan.
The work narrates the lives of the art works that Hemingway collected over his lifetime. In addition, the author elaborates on Hemingway's feelings, insights, and passion for his collected paintings. Informative mini-biographies of the painters exist alongside of Hemingway's correspondence with these artists, and his contributions to the exhibition catalogues of certain artists are also included.
The book begins with Hemingway's early days in Paris, his association with Gertrude Stein, and his purchase of Joan Miró's The Farm. The story of this masterpiece is a perfect example of the life and travels of a painting—i.e. the custody fight with Hadley over ownership that Hemingway arguably wins by kidnapping his child, the painting. A timely loan of the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a 1959 Miró exhibition later saved The Farm from capture by Fidel Castro.
The chapters that follow progress in chronological order as Hemingway acquires paintings in the 1930s and '40s from a number of artists: Mike Strater, Waldo Peirce, Paul Klee, Juan Gris, André Masson, and Roberto Domingo. The section on Spanish artists and bullfighting is especially interesting, and contains passages from Death in the Afternoon that complement the narratives about and biographies of the paintings.
Waldo Peirce, a life-long friend of Hemingway's, is represented by a number of pieces. Ms. Hemingway has worked hard to search out neglected [End Page 180] and forgotten pieces such as Peirce's Two Partridges and a Shotgun, now in a private collection in Key West. Peirce's portrait of Hemingway, Kid Balzac, currently hangs in the Hemingway Room at the John F. Kennedy Library. Ms. Hemingway gives an art critic's analysis of Kid Balzac: "The subject's shirt, actually the canvas left in reserve, is brilliant white and the background a dazzling, bottle green that Peirce applied in swift strokes using a large dry brush" (35).
Her comments on many other paintings are equally astute, offering the reader new insights into the works. For instance, about Klee's Monument Under Construction, she writes: "However, one cannot deny the mask-like appearance of the face in this painting. Hemingway, in fact, described the painting as a satirical portrait of Benito Mussolini" (45).
The reproduction of the paintings is excellent, on a par with any coffee table art book. The colors are fully saturated and true. I would have liked to have seen more images of the art works and fewer of the already familiar images of Hemingway and his family, however. For instance, one image is a black-and-white photo of Mary Hemingway lying in bed at the Finca. The text notes that Masson's The Throw of the Dice is on the wall, but this painting was discussed earlier in the text, and the photo is a better picture of Mary lying down than a reproduction of the painting. Although Colette Hemingway visited the Finca, she only includes a couple of stand-alone photos of individual paintings. Most depict the paintings in their surroundings at the Finca. While the placement of these paintings in the Finca may be of some significance...