A thought-provoking examination of beauty using three works of art by Manet, Gauguin, and Cézanne. As the discipline of art history has moved away from connoisseurship, the notion of beauty has become increasingly problematic. Both culturally and personally subjective, the term is difficult to define and nearly universally avoided. In this insightful book, Richard R. Brettell, one of the leading authorities on Impressionism and French art of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, dares to confront the concept of modern beauty head-on. This is not a study of aesthetic philosophy, but rather a richly contextualized look at the ambitions of specific artists and artworks at a particular time and place.
Brettell shapes his manifesto around three masterworks from the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Édouard Manet’s Jeanne (Spring), Paul Gauguin’s Arii Matamoe (The Royal End), and Paul Cézanne’s Young Italian Woman at a Table. The provocative discussion reveals how each of these exceptional paintings, though depicting very different subjects—a fashionable actress, a preserved head, and a weary working woman—enacts a revolutionary, yet enduring, icon of beauty.