In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Beckett's Thing: Painting and Theatre by David Lloyd
  • Derval Tubridy
Lloyd, David. 2016. Beckett's Thing: Painting and Theatre. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. £75.00 hc. £24.99 sc. xiii + 253 pp.

David Lloyd's erudite and incisive study, Beckett's Thing: Painting and Theatre, articulates the importance of Samuel Beckett's close attention to painting as material culture and social signifier, identifying the ways in which his engagement with three key painters—Jack B. Yeats, Bram van Velde, and Avigdor Arikha—influenced the development of his theater. Beckett's Thing forms part of a growing body of scholarship on Beckett and the visual arts that both identifies the paintings and art-historical contexts that influenced the Irishman's writing (Gordon Armstrong, James Knowlson, Mark Nixon, Fionnuala Croke, Conor Carville), and traces his influence on Modern and contemporary art (Lois Oppenheim, Mary Bryden, Daniel Albright, Derval Tubridy, Catherine Laws, Christa-Marie Lerm Hayes, Carla Taban, Katherine Weiss, Robert Reginio, David Houston Jones). Yet, while he draws on the significant developments of each of these strands of research, Lloyd provides a distinctive perspective, focusing on Beckett's deep interest in specific paintings by Yeats, van Velde, and Arika, and asking, "How far can we find in his appreciation of actual paintings clues not to any specific image that Beckett may have adopted, but to the visual principles that underlie and evolve through his work as a whole?" (7).

His critical perspective framed by ethics and aesthetics, Lloyd positions Beckett's engagement with painting as a way of thinking, [End Page 880] an extension of the writer's exploration of the impossibilities of language, representation, and expression. Drawing on his earlier readings of Beckett in terms of the decolonial subject, Lloyd develops the implications of representation as a form of politics to argue that Beckett's "thoroughgoing dismantling of the regime of representation { … } fractures not only the aesthetic but with it the political and ethical dimensions through which the modern subject is articulated" (233).

Painting certainly was Beckett's thing. His early years were spent immersed in the Dutch and Renaissance paintings hanging in the National Gallery of Ireland. Beckett wrote to his good friend, Irish poet Thomas MacGreevy, on 13 September 1932: "I seem to spend a lot of time at the National Gallery, looking at the Poussin Entombment and coming stealthily down the stairs into the charming toy brightness of the German room to the Breughels." In the summer of 1927 he travelled to Florence and to Venice, where he saw Giorgione's The Tempest at the Accademia, to which he would allude in his 1931 essay on Proust. While working as a lecteur at the Ecole Normale Superièure in Paris, he frequented the Louvre in the company of MacGreevy (who was working there as a guide), later referring to paintings by Franciabigio and Pisanello in his early stories. In 1933–34 Beckett immersed himself in art history, transcribing passages from R. H. Wilenski's An Introduction to Dutch Art (1929). A sojourn in London while writing Murphy in the 1930s facilitated trips to galleries and museums there (he even applied for a curatorial post at the National Gallery), and his subsequent trip through pre-war Germany, detailed in six diaries now called the "German Diaries," exposed the young writer not only to the avant-garde of European painting, but to the political nexus within which expression and representation are embedded. Beckett's notes on his visit to the studio of Karl Ballmer in November 1936 give a glimpse of the aesthetic concerns that would animate his critical writing at that time. Viewing Ballmer's Kopf in Rot (1930–31), Beckett was alert to the tension between abstraction and representation, noting that the object of Ballmer's work is "not exploited to illustrate an idea," and that communication itself is "exhausted by the optical experience that is {both} its motive & content" (German Diaries, November 26, 1936). Informed by the publication of Beckett's letters, and further scholarship on his notes and diaries pertaining to the writer's early appreciation of European art, Lloyd asks three vital questions: What did Beckett "learn from painters that eventually informed...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 880-884
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.