Retrospective: Philip Guston on Piero della Francesca

And other excerpts from our coverage 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago

May 15, 1915.

May 15, 1915.

100 Years Ago

“A Model Museum: The Parrish Art Foundation at Southampton, L.I.”

It is impossible in the necessary limits of an illustrated article on this most beautiful and attractive of the smaller museums of the United States, to detail the contents of the building. Suffice it to say that they will repay long and careful study and emphasize the artistic taste knowledge and discernment of Mr. Parrish, and his rare insight into what in art can best direct and influence the education, not only of the young, but of those older persons who have studied and possess already good knowledge of the subject. A day spent in the Parrish Museum of Southampton is all too short a time to at all appreciate the beauty and variety of its contents.

The Parrish Museum is one that should be studied by those who plan to carry out in other localities, Mr. Parrish’s and Mr. De Forest’s ideas of smaller museums.

May 11, 1940.

May 11, 1940.

75 Years Ago

“Rouault: Recent Work,”
by Alfred M. Frankfurter

Georges Rouault is soon to be seventy years old, and these products of his age take on a special interest in relation to the late art of other great painters, for it is not too much to say that in the profound resolution of content and style, from the familiar though varied forms of earlier days, which these recent pictures of Rouault reveal, there is something indubitably reminiscent of the depth and grandeur of the last period of Rembrandt and, perhaps even more closely, of Titian.

To write about Rouault is for me not alone a first experience but as well a peculiarly personal matter. I suppose that everyone must have interests so strong and affecting that it is difficult, when at all possible, to deal with them through the ordinary mediums of a profession—a little, it might be said, like a physician’s reluctance to treat members of his family. So it is for me with Rouault. He has been to me among living painters, far more than the conventional concept of favorite—rather always a source of personal experience so moving, so quickly and deeply touching that it would be almost embarrassing to put into public critical language.

May 1965.

May 1965.

50 Years Ago

“Piero della Francesca: The Impossibility of Painting,”
by Philip Guston

A certain anxiety persists in the painting of Piero della Francesca. What we see is the wonder of what it is that is being seen. Perhaps it is the anxiety of painting itself.

Where can everything be located, and in what condition can everything exist? In The Baptism of Christ, we are suspended between the order we see and an apprehension that everything may again move. And yet not. It is an extreme point of the “impossibility” of painting. Or its possibility. Its frustration. Its continuity.

He is so remote from other masters; without their “completeness” of personality. A different fervor, grave and delicate, moves in the daylight of his pictures. Without our familiar passions, he is like a visitor to the earth, reflecting on distances, gravity and positions of essential forms.

In the Baptism, as though opening his eyes for the first time, trees bodies, sky and water are represented without manner. The painting is nowhere a fraction more than the balance of his thought. His eye. One cannot determine if the rhythm of his spaces substitute themselves as forms, or the forms as rhythms. In The Flagellation, his thought is diffuse. Everything is fully exposed. The play has been set in motion. The architectural box is opened by the large block of the discoursers to the right, as if a door were slid aside to reveal its contents: the flagellation of Christ, the only “disturbance” in the painting, but place in the rear, as if in memory. The picture is sliced almost in half, yet both parts act on each other, repel and attract, absorb and enlarge, one another. At times, there seems to be no structure at all. No direction. We can move spatially everywhere, as in life.

Possibly it is not a “picture” we see, but the presence of a necessary and generous law.

Is the painting a vast precaution to avoid total immobility, a wisdom which can include the partial doubt of the final destiny of its forms? It may be this doubt which moves and locates everything.

May 1990.

May 1990.

25 Years Ago

“Up from the Underground,”
by Sylvia Hochfield

Today artists exhibit whatever they want, and the art journals write about it freely. There is no more censorship. The old division between “official” artists—those who belong to the Artists Union—and “unofficial” artists no longer has any meaning. Although the state art support system does not reflect the new realities, it is the former unofficial artists who are, in the words of the writer and critic Olga Sviblova, “the new establishment,” since it is almost exclusively their work that interests foreigners. Western art dealers and exhibition organizers are here in force, wooing artists who until recently had few opportunities to exhibit their work to the public or any thought of selling it. At the same time, since there is almost no domestic market, they are in the position of producing only for export. The new problem for many is how to find a place in the Western mainstream without losing their identity as Soviet artists.

A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 128.

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