RaveThe New Yorker... audacious in structure ... Janssen drew on his profound knowledge to dispense with strict chronology and to write not only about his subject’s prodigious mind and eye but also from within them. He openly employs devices of fiction to parse intellectual insights and emotional states and, now and then, to cobble together imagined conversations between Mondrian and some of his significant contemporaries, with lines taken verbatim either from Mondrian’s own writings and letters or from the diaries, letters, or recollections of others, such as the American sculptor Alexander Calder. The readerly effect is a bit uncanny, recalling Marianne Moore’s definition of poetry as \'imaginary gardens with real toads in them\' ... Janssen’s expert citations of parallels in music for Mondrian’s art are a treat and a revelation for a musical doofus like me ... Janssen successfully quashes any tendency to regard Mondrian as an oddball, or to rank him pragmatically with the many other moderns whose legacies have informed developments in fine and applied arts ... Even the critically consummate Janssen, with his magnum opus of a biography, can merely dance around, and not penetrate, the adamantine conundrum of the Dutch magus’s dead stops in lived time.
PositiveThe New YorkerTomlinson’s dryly written accounts of the Spanish court are no Iberian Wolf Hall, but they feature arresting characters ... Tomlinson addresses, with refreshing clarity, a chronic question of just how independent, not to say subversive, Goya was of the powers that employed him. She debunks a common oversimplification of Goya as a committed post-Enlightenment liberal ... We come at last to the Black Paintings (untitled by Goya), of which Tomlinson gives a bracingly investigative account ... She admirably keeps the mysteries of Goya’s character distinct from its self-serving machinations. He was unremarkably bourgeois, though salaried by royalty. (Payments kept arriving until the end of his life.) The boring parts of his story are salutary, framing the discontinuous dramas.
RaveThe New YorkerMariani’s excellent new book, The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens, is a thrilling story of a mind, which emerges from a dispiriting story of a man ... Mariani persuasively numbers Stevens among the twentieth-century poets who are both most powerful and most refined in their eloquence.