- The Paintings and Drawings of John Dos Passos: A Collection and Study ed. by Donald Pizer, Lisa Nanney, and Richard Layman, and: Henry James and American Painting by Colm Tóibín, Marc Simpson and; Declan Kiely
Recently, there has been a spate of books devoted to studying the relation between late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century American writers and the visual arts. Despite their similarity in theme, The Paintings and Drawings of John Dos Passos: A Collection and Study and Henry James and American Painting vary in critical approach: the first collection provides a comprehensive record and interpretation of Dos Passos' artwork that might be of interest both to art historians and literary critics, while the second surveys James' relationships with artists and his art criticism that would appeal to cultural critics and literary historians. Both books contain accomplished essays by critics and art historians about these two titanic figures whose immense talent in literature spilled over into exploring other areas, such as painting, sculpture, and photography.
The Paintings and Drawings of John Dos Passos brings together artwork primarily from two private collections, one of his daughter, Lucy Dos Passos Coggin, and the other of editor and historian Richard Layman. Divided into an introduction that covers his painterly life and major works by Donald Pizer, an essay on the connection between Dos Passos' fiction and his paintings by critic Lisa Nanney, and a survey of the various holdings of Dos Passos' art by Layman, the volume also contains 64 full-color plates of Dos [End Page 185] Passos' watercolors, pastels, charcoal, and goache, and drawings. Although Dos Passos considered his painting his "second talent," Nanney argues that "his paintings can provide a pictorial guide through the aesthetic and intellectual directions that defined his career."
A modernist, Dos Passos was highly influenced by Fauvism, Modernism, and Cubism. His paintings also display the impact on his work of travel and the life he led in far-flung locations such as Paris, Palma de Majorca, Italy, Granada, and New Guinea. Stateside, Dos Passos fully employed the mechanical and industrial images he found in New York City that also informed the narrative style he developed to provide a critique of American life. Pizer's introduction situates Dos Passos' artwork in the context of his travels and artistic friendships, defining his modernist style as deriving not from "direct borrowings but rather an acceptance of broad currents of emphasis." The volume contains interpretive section prefaces by Nanney and Pizer, which are organized chronologically or by subject, such as "Portraits" or "Still Lifes." Layman's brief survey and checklist of collections, exhibits, artworks, and playsets would appeal to any reader who wishes to have a comprehensive understanding of Dos Passos' artistic efforts.
While not a painter, James' earliest attempts to publish art criticism, starting with an unsigned essay from 1872 in the Atlantic Monthly to his fully mature fiction mark his ongoing interest in the visual arts. Henry James and American Painting, based on an exhibition at the Morgan Library, organized by Irish writer Colm Tóibín and curator Declan Kiely, places the literary works of James in dialog with the paintings and sculpture of his well-known contemporaries. The volume contains three major essays and ample, full-color illustrations of artworks by John La Farge, John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, as well as the lesser-known but equally fascinating Alice Boughton, Frank Duveneck, and Lizzie Boott Duveneck. James grew up with a Thomas Cole landscape on the parlor wall of his parents' home, and later in life he owned one of Sargent's famed portraits. Tóibín examines how the artworks that James saw and personal relationships he experienced abroad figured into his fiction. While James' approach might have been autobiographical, his goal was...