Julian Barnes Essays On Artists

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Essays & Reviews

© Emma Hardy for Intelligent Life Magazine

The following articles represent a selection of essays and reviews written by Julian Barnes from 1986 to the present, some can be found in his books.

4 January 2018 - "Humph, He, Ha", London Review of Books, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 11-13 [Julian Barnes on Degas; Degas: A Passion for Perfection (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), Degas Danse Dessin: Hommage à Degas avec Paul Valéry (Musée d’Orsay), Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell (National Gallery, London), Degas and His Model by Alice Michel, translated by Jeff Nagy].

7 October 2017 - "Being Royal Is Bad for the Character", The Guardian. [Barnes discusses Princess Margaret in this review of Ma’am Darling by Craig Brown.]

23 September 2017 - "Barnes on Ryckmans: 'I trusted every word he wrote", The Australian. [Barnes discusses Pierre Ryckmans; A reprint of his introduction to Simon Leys: Navigator between Worlds, by Philippe Paquet, translated by Julie Rose, published by La Trobe University Press; The Australian may require a subscription to read online.]

8 July 2017 - "Best holiday reads 2017, picked by writers – part one", The Guardian. [Barnes selects Svetlana Alexievich’s first book, The Unwomanly Face of War (1985), Marie Darrieussecq’s Being Here: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker (Text) and Nathan Englander’s Dinner at the Centre of the Earth (Weidenfeld).]

20 April 2017 - "Diary," London Review of Books, vol. 39, no. 8. [Julian Barnes discusses England and Brexit.]

6 April 2017 - "A Marvelous Moment for French Writers and Artists," New York Review of Books. [Review of The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter.]

19 January 2017 - "At the Fondation Louis Vuitton", London Review of Books. Julian Barnes on the Shchukin Collection at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.

12/02/16 - "I Was Wrong about EM Forster", The Guardian. In his teens, Barnes was put off by EM Forster's A Passage to India. Today, he finds him a writer of quality and purpose.

05/06/16 - "My Stupid Leicester City Love." The Guardian, 6 May 2016. [Julian Barnes - Leicester fan of more than six decades – on why Premier League triumph means we are all Foxes now].

03/18/16 - "Julian Barnes remembers his friend Anita Brookner: ‘There was no one remotely like her’." The Guardian, 18 March 2016.

03/17/16 - Russia and the Arts: Julian Barnes, Roxana Silbert and Suhayla El-Bushra. BBC Radio 3, 17 March 2016 [audio].

03/05/16 - Barnes, Julian. "My Mother Before I Knew Her." The Guardian, 5 March 2016.

01/30/16 - Barnes, Julian. "My hero: Dmitri Shostakovich." The Guardian, 30 January 2016.

12/2015 - 'The Real Thing,' London Review of Books 37.24, 17 December 2015.
[Review of Splendeurs et misères: Images de la prostitution 1850-1910, Musée d’Orsay until 17 January 2016; Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Grand Palais until 11 January 2016, Metropolitan Museum of Art from 9 February to 15 May 2016.]

November/December 2015 - 'The Big Question: What's the Best Number?' Intelligent Life.

11/2015 - 'Even Worse Than We Thought,' New York Review of Books, 19 November 2015.
[Review of The Crime and the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne by Anna Bikont, translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles.]

11/2015 - 'Julian Barnes Remembers Philip French, His Friend for 40 years,' The Observer, 1 November 2015.
[Julian Barnes looks back over 40 years of friendship with a man who combined a love of terrible puns with his vast knowledge, generosity and sense of fun.]

Autumn 2015 - 'Remembering Alan,' Areté Magazine, Issue #47, Autumn 2015.
[Julian Barnes remembers his friend Alan Howard.]

05/15/2015 - The Mighty Fed - The Guardian
[On Federer and Me: A Story of Obsession by William Skidelsky]

10/24/2014 - Portrait of a Political Punk - The Guardian
[On Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère]

05/07/2014 - Georges Simenon Returns - Times Literary Supplement
[On Penguin's reissue of Georges Simenon's works]

04/2014 - Why the Exclamation Mark Is the Best - More Intelligent Life

01/03/2014 - Julian Barnes on the Late, Great Penelope Fitzgerald - The Guardian p.16
[On Penelope Fitzgerald's novel Innocence]

12/13/2013 - Stoner: the must-read novel of 2013 - The Guardian
[On the unlikely success of John Williams's novel Stoner]

12/05/2013 - Heart-Squasher - London Review of Books (35.23) p.3-8
[Review of Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud by Martin Gayford and Breakfast with Lucian: A Portrait of the Artist by Geordie Greig]

Spring/Summer 2013 - I Remember - Areté Magazine: A Retrospective (40)

12/19/2012 - The secrets of Cézanne - Times Literary Supplement p.3-4
[Review of Cézanne: A Life by Alex Danchev]

08/24/2012 - A Tribute to Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford - The Guardian
[Through the Window as 'Ford's Anglican Saint']

Jan/Feb 2012 - Where Sibelius Fell Silent - Intelligent Life

12/16/2011 - Judging the European Book Prize for 2011 - The Guardian

07/01/2011 - A Candid View of Candide - The Guardian
[Barnes pays tribute to Voltaire's Candide]

06/30/2011 - Badger Claws - London Review of Books (33.13) p.23-24
[Rev. of Nature Stories by Jules Renard, translated by Douglas Parmée]

04/16/2011 - Edouard Manet: Symphony in Off-white - The Guardian

04/07/2011 - For Sorrow There Is No Remedy - The New York Review of Books (58.6)
[Through the Window as 'Regulating Sorrow', Review of A Widow's Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates]

03/26/2011 - A vineyard in Montmartre: just one of the hidden pleasures of Paris - The Guardian

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12/26/2010 - 'Under the briskness, he was a softie' - The Observer
[A tribute to Anthony Howard, Julian's editor at The New Statesman]

11/18/2010 - Writer's Writer and Writer's Writer's Writer - London Review of Books (32.22) p.7-11
[Through the Window as 'Translating Madame Bovary']

11/13/2010 - Letters from the Man Who Wrote The Leopard - The Guardian
[On Letters from London and Europe by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa]

08/21/2010 - Ford Madox Ford's Passionate Affair with Provence - The Guardian
[Through the Window as 'Ford and Provence']

04/22/2010 - A City of Sand and Puddles - London Review of Books (32.8) p.9-11
[Review of Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb and The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps by Eric Hazan, translated by David Fernbach]

11/05/2009 - On We Sail - London Review of Books (31.21) p.25-28
[On Guy de Maupassant's Afloat (translated by Douglas Parméen) and Alien Hearts (translated by Richard Howard)]

10/17/2009 - Running Away - The Guardian p.20
[Through the Window as 'Remembering Updike, Remembering Rabbit' 2]

06/11/2009 - Flights - New York Review of Book
[Through the Window as Remembering Updike, Remembering Rabbit 1]

04/18/2009 - When in Rome - The Guardian p.20
[Through the Window as 'The "Unpoetical" Clough']

03/12/2009 - Such, Such Was Eric Blair - New York Review of Books (56.4)
[Through the Window as 'George Orwell and the Fucking Elephant']

10/18/2008 - Brits Abroad - The Guardian
[On Guy de Maupassant & Algernon Swinburne]

09/28/2008 - Authors on Museums: Julian Barnes Is Very Fond of an 'Unknown Man' - Intelligent Life, Autumn 2008
[In the first installment of "Authors on Museums", a new series in Intelligent Life magazine, Julian Barnes chooses a collection in Cefalu, Sicily, on the strength of one vase, two porcupines and one great painting]

07/26/2008 - How Did She Do It? - The Guardian p.2
[Through the Window as 'The Deceptiveness of Penelope Fitzgerald']

06/14/2008 - Friends for Faraway Places - The Guardian p.2

06/19/2008 - Vu de Grande-Bretagne: Surtout ne changes pas! - Le Nouvel Observateur p.14-15
[Barnes discusses the roles of England and France in Europe; Translated by Vanessa Guignery]

06/07/2008 - The saddest story - The Guardian p.2

03/12/2008 - Flaubert's Last Letters - Times Literary Supplement
[Review of Gustave Flaubert, CORRESPONDANCE V: janvier 1876 - mai 1880; Edited by Jean Bruneau and Yvan Leclerc]

11/28/2007 - Books of the Year - Times Literary Supplement

11/24/2007 - Christmas Books Past, Present and Future: Part One - The Guardian

11/03/2007 - Better with Their Clothes on - The Guardian
[On Swiss artist Félix Vallotton, Also published in Die Weltwoche (42) 18 October 2007 p.52-57]

10/04/2007 - Behind the Gas Lamp - London Review of Books (29.19) p.9-11
[Through the Window as 'The Profile of Félix Fénéon']

07/07/2006 - An Inspector Calls - The Guardian p.4
[Through the Window as 'The Man Who Saved Old France']

12/25/2006 - The Past Conditional - The New Yorker p.56+
[Barnes writes about family, death, and religion]

11/25/2006 - Blood and Nerves - The Guardian
[Barnes on Émile Zola's Thérèse Raquin]

09/30/2006 - The Rebuke - The Guardian
[Catching up with Emma -- after Madame Bovary]

07/08/2006 - Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Property Developers - The Guardian p.7

06/10/2006 - 'What a Stinking Game is Soccer' - The Guardian p.3
[Julian Barnes on The Rules of Association Football 1863: The First FA Rule Book, The Bodleian Press, £5.99; with an introduction by Melvyn Bragg]

02/03/2006 - After the Ball - Times Literary Supplement (5366) p.3-4

12/15/2005 - Always There - London Review of Books (27.24) p.3-6
[On George Braque]

11/05/2005 - Soul Brothers - The Guardian p.4
[Through the Window as 'France's Kipling']

10/08/2005 - The Road Not Taken - The Guardian p.7
[Julian Barnes writes about the Guardian book club interview and his ability to remember his own books]

07/02/2005 - Tales from the Confessional - The Guardian p.4
[Julian Barnes writes about Frank O'Connor]

03/05/2005 - When Flaubert Took Wing - The Guardian p.30
[Julian Barnes writes about the creation of Flaubert's Parrot]

11/30/2003 - Here's Johnny - The Observer p.28
[Julian Barnes on England's victory in the Rugby World Cup]

11/08/2003 - Lost for Words - The Guardian p.37
[Also published in Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame, edited by Robin Robertson]

10/04/2003 - Flashes of Wisdom in an Age of Chaos - The Guardian p.34
[Through the Window as 'The Wisdom of Chamfort']

08/16/2003 - When Eriqui Hit Parati - The Guardian p.7

07/07/2003 - Hate and Hedonism - The New Yorker
[Houellebecq Website PDF, Through the Window as 'Michel Houellebecq and the Sin of Despair']

06/28/2003 - Worlds within Words - The Guardian p.37

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06/14/2003 - Puritan Pies and Decadent Dinners - The Guardian p.36
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'The Moral of It All']

06/07/2003 - Bottom Drawer - The Guardian
[The Pedant in the Kitchen]

05/31/2003 - Love One - The Guardian p.36
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'Not a Dinner Party']

05/24/2003 - How Beetroot Got Itself Out of a Pickle - The Guardian p.36
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'In the Purple']

05/17/2003 - Keep It Simple - The Guardian p.36
[The Pedant in the Kitchen]

05/10/2003 - Now They Tell Me! - The Guardian p.37
[The Pedant in the Kitchen]

05/03/2003 - When Once Is Enough - The Guardian p.36
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'Once is Enough']

04/26/2003 - Are You Being Served? - The Guardian p.36
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'Service with a Scowl']

04/19/2003 - Take a Green Leaf from These Books - The Guardian p.36
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'Good Things']

04/21/2003 - Union Blues - The New Yorker (79.9) p.145

04/12/2003 - Picture Perfect - The Guardian p.36
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'The Tooth Fairy']

04/11/2003 - This War Was Not Worth a Child's Finger - The Guardian p.2-4

04/10/2003 - Holy Hysteria - New York Review of Books (50.6) p.32-34
[Review of The Anti-Semitic Moment: A Tour of France in 1898 by Pierre Birnbaum]

04/05/2003 - Mrs Beeton to the Rescue - The Guardian p.37
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'The Cactus and the Slipper']

03/29/2003 - The Seeds of Rebellion - The Guardian p.37
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'No, I Won't Do That']

03/22/2003 - Secrets of the 10-Minute Maestro - The Guardian p.37
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'The Ten-Minute Maestro']

03/15/2003 - Size Counts - The Guardian p.37
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'Take Two Medium Onions']

03/08/2003 - Recipe for Success - The Guardian p.37
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'By the Book']

03/01/2003 - The Virtues of Precision - The Guardian p.37
[The Pedant in the Kitchen as 'Warning: Pedant at Work']

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01/11/2003 - Sentimental Journeys - The Guardian p.2

Spring/Summer 2002 - In the Land of Pain - Areté Magazine (8)
[In the Land of Pain]

05/11/2002 - The Art of Suffering - The Guardian p.1
[In the Land of Pain adapted Introduction]

05/03/2002 - French Farce - The Guardian p.2
[Barnes reports from Paris on Jean-Marie Le Pen's surprise success in the first round of France's presidential election]

04/08/2002 - Pronoun Overboard - The New Yorker p.32-33
[Barnes comments on pronouns and ships in a 'Talk of the Town' piece for the magazine]

03/30/2002 - Scene dans un jardin anglais: Mon Journal de la Semaine - Liberation
[Julian Barnes discusses various events from a week of his life]

02/25/202 - The Worst Reported War Since the Crimean - The Guardian
[Julian Barnes discusses the Falklands war twenty years later]

02/24/2002 - Life Support - The Observer
[Julian Barnes and chef Simon Hopkinson discuss their friendship and love of wine]

02/09/2002 - The Woman Who Liberated the Kitchen - The Independent
[Something to Declare as 'The Land Without Brussels Sprouts']

07/16/2001 - The Thin Red Line - The New Yorker p.83+

12/25/2000 - Influences: Single-Handed - The New Yorker p.114

08/21/2000 - The Hardest Test - New Yorker p.94, 96-100, 102-103
[Something to Declare as Tour de France 2000]

04/17/1999 - One Famous Writer brought him a piece and was told it might serve as cat litter - The Guardian
[This essay was also published under the title 'Bitter Lemon Days' as part of Another Round At The Pillars: Essays, Poems & Reflections on Ian Hamilton, to mark Hamilton's 60th birthday]

1999 - A London View - Granta (65) London: The Lives of the City

1999 - ¿Qué es la vida? Una maldita cosa detrás de la otra - (Traducción: Claudia Martínez), etcéter@: politica y cultura en línea

12/18/1998 - No One Suffers as Much - Times Literary Supplement (4994) p.3-5
[Something to Declare as 'Tail-Flying', Barnes reviews Gustave Flaubert's Correspondance. Volume Four: 1869-1875. Edited by Jean Bruneau. Paris: Gallimard, 1998]

11/29/1998 - A Love Affair with Color - New York Times Book Review p.6

10/22/1998 - The Wise Woman - New York Review of Books
[Through the Window as 'Lorrie Moore Takes Wing']

07/20/1998 - How Was It for You? - Time (International) (152.3)
[Barnes's take on the 1998 World Cup]

07/19/1998 - Shrink Wrapped - Sunday Times p.1-2
[Barnes's review of Anthony Clare's In the Psychiatrist's Chair III]

04/1998 - A Timeless Correspondence - Harper's 296(1775) p.29-31
[Barnes replies to a letter written by Flaubert to Turgenev. Originally published in the January 29th issue of Le Nouvel Observateur]

01/19-02/04/1998 - Cher Gustave. . . - Le Nouvel Observateur p.52-60
[Seven authors reply to letters written by Flaubert. The authors are: Phillippe Sollers, Julian Barnes, Noëlle Châtelet, Jacques Weber, Dominique Fernandez, Jacques Drillon, and Guy Scarpetta. The article is in French]

09/29/1997 - Kitty Zipper - The New Yorker p.78-82 [Review of Kitty Kelley's The Royals]

05/05/1997 - Dept. of Dreams: European Solutions to Travel - The New Yorker (73.10) p.90, 92-93, 96-97, 109

04/1997 - Out of Place - Architectural Digest (54.5) p.36,38

01/27/1997 - Paris in the Twentieth Century - The New York Review of Books p.4

01/09/1997 - O Unforgetting Elephant - The New York Review of Books (44.1) p.23-27
[Through the Window as 'Ford's The Good Soldier']

01/28/1996 - Grand Illusions - The New York Times Book Review p.9
[Review of John Updike's In the Beauty of the Lilies]

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08/22/1994 - The Modernizer - The New Yorker (70.26) p.66-71
[Letters from London as 'Left, Right, Left, Right: The Arrival of Tony Blair']

06/06/1994 - Chunnel Vision - The New Yorker (70.16) p.38-45
[Letters from London as 'Froggy! Froggy! Froggy!']

05/26/1994 - Romancing Flaubert - The New York Review of Books (41) p.12-16
[Something to Declare as Not Drowning But Waving: The Case of Louise Colet, Review of Rage and Fire: A Life of Louise Colet, Pioneer Feminist, Literary Star, Flaubert's Muse by Francine du Plessix Gray]

02/21/1994 - Staying Alive - The New Yorker (70.1) p.98-105
[Letters from London as 'Five Years of the Fatwa']

11/15/1993 - The Maggie Years - The New Yorker (69.38) p.82-89
[Letters from London as 'Mrs. Thatcher Remembers']

09/20/1993 - The Deficit Millionaires - The New Yorker (69.30) p.74-78, 80-88, 90-93
[Letters from London]

06/10/1993 - Unlikely Friendship - The New York Review of Books (40.11) p.5-6, 8, 10, 12
[Something to Declare as 'Consolation v. Desolation', Review of Francis Steegmuller and Barbara Bray's Flaubert-Sand: The Correspondence]

04/12/1993 - Real Britannia - The New Yorker (69.8) p.36-42
[Letters from London as 'Britannia's New Bra Size']

12/28/1992 & 01/04/1993 - Over the Limit - The New Yorker (68.45/46) p.94-100, 105
[Letters from London as 'The Chancellor of the Exchequer Buys Some Claret']

07/20/1992 - Letter from London - The New Yorker (68.22) p.69-73
[Letters from London as 'Traffic Jam at Buckingham Palace']

05/04/1992 - Letter from London - The New Yorker (68.11) p.78-84, 86-92
[Letters from London as 'Vote Glenda!']

01/06/1992 - Letter from London - The New Yorker (67.46) p.69-74
[Letters from London as 'John Major Makes a Joke']

09/30/1991 - Letter from London - The New Yorker (67.32) p.74, 76-81
[Letters from London as 'Year of the Maze']

01/07/1991 - Letter from London - The New Yorker (66.47) p.57-69
[Letters from London as 'Mrs. Thatcher Discovers It's a Funny Old World']

06/11/1990 - Letter from London - The New Yorker (66.17) p.89-99
[Letters from London as 'Fake!']

03/05/1990 - Letter from London - The New Yorker (66.3) p.91-100
[Letters from London as 'MPTV']

10/04/1987 - Life in the Slow Lane - The New York Times Book Review (92) p.13-14
[Review of The Day of Judgement]

12/21/1986 - Once in Love with Emma - The New York Times Book Review (91) p.10
[Something to Declare as 'Flaubert's Death-Masks', Review of Llosa Mario Vargas's The Perpetual Orgy: Flaubert and Madame Bovary]

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“Anyone setting out to practise any of the arts in the second half of the twentieth century had to take on Modernism,” he writes in his introduction. Accordingly, “Keeping an Eye Open” is devoted primarily to pioneering French modernists, such as Paul Cézanne and Odilon Redon. (Toward the end of the book, Barnes forays somewhat clumsily into the territory of postmodern and contemporary art.)

Originally published in the London Review of Books, the TLS, Modern Painters and elsewhere, Barnes’s reflections aren’t criticism proper so much as critical biography, wedding historical chronicle with impressive feats of looking: Gustave Courbet paints with a “lush delicacy”; Henri Fantin-Latour’s group portraits smack of “dense and deadening domestic enclosure”; Redon’s disturbing noirs “hover, haunt and linger like mutant products of the world’s shared private imagination.”

This is a novelist’s criticism, full of motion and drama. Barnes places static images within narrative contexts that enliven and animate them. For instance, he begins his essay on Théodore Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa” (1818-1819), a forceful depiction of shipwrecked sailors, with a vivid account of the event that inspired the painting: a two-week ordeal requiring survivors on a raft to subsist on their own urine and the flesh of their fallen or mutinous compatriots. This chapter, “Géricault: Catastrophe Into Art,” is excerpted from his 1989 novel “A History of the World in 10 Chapters,” but all of these essays share this novelistic tone and are rich with anecdotes.

Barnes’s belletristic approach is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of this collection. His writing is arresting, but his thought is marked by methodological inconsistencies. He can seem intellectually opportunistic, prone to adopting and then dropping conflicting sets of critical commitments from essay to essay. “It doesn’t really matter whether an artist has a dull or an interesting life, except for promotional purposes,” he insists in his essay on Pierre Bonnard, yet he is driven to biographical speculation throughout the book. He repeatedly urges us to consider painted products as contingencies, fragile conclusions that could easily have turned out differently, but in his essay on René Magritte, he claims that “there is no point in wishing it otherwise, in wanting artists to be different from the selves that they have spent a long time finding.”

Barnes doesn’t do much to develop these strikingly eloquent lines, but he delivers them with so much aplomb that they hit with the force of a kick. He deals not in argument but in persuasion. What counts for him, by his own admission, is “our living response,” the degree of our engagement. Could prose so seductively lovely be wrong? But then again, rightness and wrongness aren’t the point: The point is sheer enchantment.

Novelist and art critic Julian Barnes (Alan Edwards)

Becca Rothfeld is a contributing editor at the art magazine Momus.

Keeping an Eye Open

Essays on Art

By Julian Barnes

Knopf. 278 pp. $30

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