Tanya Harrod

Harnessing the Peacock

Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake


Yale University Press 440pp £25 order from our bookshop

Art historians tend to be biography-averse; lives of artists, in presenting the day-to-day, fail to do justice to the work. This is not to say that the genre cannot amplify our understanding of a painter or sculptor. One has only to think of Hilary Spurling’s magnificent two-volume life of Matisse, which illuminates his ancestry and gives proper space to his complex relationship with the applied arts. Likewise, the first volume of John Richardson’s A Life of Picasso, written in collaboration with the scholar Marilyn McCully, brings out the vital importance of Picasso’s Spanish origins. And certain artists exert a fatal attraction, drawing biographers as moths to pheromones: none more than the subject of Daniel Sutherland’s Whistler: A Life for Art’s Sake.

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