Yet by no means were these Salons equal in power, nor did they work consensually to forge this “modern art centre”. Formed on the basis of their different cultural politics, constantly they rivalled one another for State acquisitions and commissions, exhibition places and spaces, awards, and every other means of enhancing their legitimacy. By no means were the avant-garde salons those that most succeeded. Instead, as this culturo-political history demonstrates, the French Artists’ and National Fine Art Salons were the most successful, with the genderist French Artists' Salon being the most powerful and “official”. Despite the renown today of Neo-Impressionism, Art Nouveau, Fauvism, Cubism and Orphism, the most powerful artists in this “modern art centre” were not Sonia Delaunay, Émile Gallé, Paul Signac, Henri Matisse or even Picasso but such Academicians as Léon Bonnat, William Bouguereau, Fernand Cormon, Edouard Detaille, Gabriel Ferrier, Jean-Paul Laurens, Luc-Oliver Merson and Aimé Morot, who exhibited at the “official” Salon supported by the machinery of the State.
In its exposure of the rivalry, conflict and struggle between the Salons and their artists, this is an unprecedented history of dissension. It also exposes how, just below the welcoming internationalist veneer of this “modern art centre”, intense persecutionist paranoia lay festering. Whenever France’s “civilizing mission” seemed culturally, commercially or colonially threatened, it erupted in waves of nationalist xenophobia turning artistic rivalry into bitter enmity. In exposing how rivals became transmuted into conspirators, ultimately this book reveals a paradox resonant in histories that celebrate the international triumph of French modern art: that this magnetic “centre”, which began by welcoming international modernists, ended by attacking them for undermining its cultural supremacy, contaminating its “civilizing mission” and politically persecuting the very modernist culture for which it has received historical renown.
To the question, 'Is the death of painting upon us?' the introductory chapter by Matthew Collings, the multi-award-winning TV art presenter, art historian and cultural critic, gives an inspiring answer: 'Painting justifies itself. Rather than pathetically struggling to keep up with the new freak-show culture of videos and installations, painting will only be worth having if it reconnects with its own inner life, where the old and the new are the same.'
Roy Bolton's selection takes us from the Ancient World, via the Italian Renaissance, Rococo and Classicism to Impressionism, Modernism and the Contemporary World. Each painting, with its context and artist, is explained in terms designed to encourage us to judge art for ourselves. Written with authority and full of original and helpful insights, this is a history of art for our times.
'While I find it interesting to think about all sorts of art, I prefer painting to any of it. Painting is soulful, important, serious and humane.' Matthew Collings
'We need to de-mystify art by stripping it down to its bare essentials, then rebuilding it ourselves, using our own minds and eyes, without all the pompous clutter.' Roy Bolton
“The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft,” The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser is a fascinating account of a brazen and amazing criminal act—a book that could help police and investigators solve the mystery of the 1990 break-in and burglary at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “A tantalizing whodunit” (Boston Globe) and a “riveting, wonderfully vivid account [that] takes you into the underworld of obsessed art detectives, con men, and thieves” (Jonathan Harr, author of The Lost Painting), The Gardner Heist is true crime history at its most spellbinding.