Leonardo's Nephew: Essays on Art and Artists by James Fenton; The Penguin Book of Art Writing by Martin Gayford and Karen Wright - review by John McEwan

John McEwan

Art Writing as Gossip or Sociology?

Leonardo's Nephew: Essays on Art and Artists


Viking 304pp £20 order from our bookshop

The Penguin Book of Art Writing


Viking 620pp £25 order from our bookshop

James Fenton is a poet and a hack – not just any hack; he was one of the valiant few who stayed on in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon - so you can be sure he will never be boring. In Borneo, he recalls, he and his party had to join their guides in a rain-dance to bring on a spate. 'We were instructed to get into the river and beat it with branches and shout at it at the tops of our voices. I apologised for laughing as we did so. My guide said: "No, you must laugh; if you do something funny you must laugh, otherwise the magic won't work."'

Art is magical, and never more so than in the form of sculpture, which is the subject of Fenton's first and most engrossing essay, 'On Statue'. It begins and ends with Sigmund Freud as a collector of grave goods, but shines a light on many aspects of this fascinating subject.

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