John Russell 寫過Henry Matisse 和Pierre Matisse父子。今天才知道Matisse三代 (加孫輩Paul Matisse )都與藝壇密切交往。
By WILLIAM GRIMES
John Russell, Art Critic for The Times, Dies at 89
John Russell, who contributed elegant, erudite art criticism for more than a half-century to The Sunday Times of London and The New York Times, where he was chief art critic from 1982 to 1990, and who helped bring a generation of postwar British artists to international attention, died on Saturday. He was 89 and lived in Manhattan.
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Bill Cunningham/The New York Times, 1988
His wife, Rosamond Bernier, said he died at a hospice in the Bronx.
Mr. Russell, an Englishman, joined The New York Times in the mid-1970s after contributing occasional reviews from London. He won a devoted readership for his literate style, his capacity for passionate appreciation and the breadth of his interests. “Reading Russell,” a collection of his journalism published in 1989, included essays on Pushkin, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Beatrix Potter, the many meanings of luggage and the beauties of the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut.
Most of his prodigious output was devoted to art, notably his monographs on Seurat, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore, Max Ernst and the multivolume series “The Meanings of Modern Art.” But he also produced travel books on Switzerland, London and Paris, a biography of the conductor Erich Kleiber and several highly regarded translations of modern French novelists.
“Working for The New York Times, I found myself writing about art, as had already been agreed,” he wrote in the book’s introduction. “But I also found myself writing about the centenary of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the bicentenary of the Battle of Lexington, the special properties of the color green, and the fact that wisteria rhymes with hysteria.”
In 1984 editors at the newspaper sent Mr. Russell to offer a different perspective on the Republican and Democratic national conventions.
Effortless, high-volume production was his hallmark. Strolling into the old Times building on West 43rd Street in Manhattan, attired in a boldly checked jacket and violently contrasting red socks, he would say a few hellos to colleagues sweating over deadlines, lightly apply his fingers to the keyboard and rise, perhaps an hour later, having composed a feature-length article with not a word out of place.
By temperament an old-fashioned man of letters, Mr. Russell was an appreciator who liked to share his enthusiasms; as a consequence some readers and fellow critics found him too genteel.
“I do not see my role as primarily punitive,” he wrote in “Reading Russell.” “There are artists whose work I dread to see yet again, dance-dramas that in my view have set back the American psyche several hundred years, composers whose names drive me from the concert hall, authors whose books I shall never willingly reopen. But it has never seemed to me much of an ambition to go though life snarling and spewing.”
John Russell was born in 1919 in Fleet, near London. He was reared by his grandparents in Strawberry Hill, a London suburb, and attended St. Paul’s School in London. There, he recalled, he impressed his headmaster, who, befuddled by the term “Surrealism,” asked a classroom of students if anyone could explain it. The future art critic raised his hand, went off to write an essay and, after handing it in, was told the next day, “Russell, you can make a living doing this.”
After studying philosophy, politics and economics at Magdalen College, Oxford, Mr. Russell began working as an unpaid intern at the Tate Gallery in 1940. Soon after he started, the Germans bombed the museum. Museum employees were relocated to Worcestershire, where Mr. Russell wrote his first book, “Shakespeare’s Country,” at the age of 23. In 1944 he published his first art book, “British Portrait Painters.”
During the war Mr. Russell worked for the Naval Intelligence division of the Admiralty. He also began writing for Peter Quennell’s Cornhill Magazine and Cyril Connolly’s Horizon, encouraged by the eccentric American man of letters Logan Pearsall Smith, whose sharp eye for rising talent had already spotted the art historian Kenneth Clark and the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. Mr. Russell, he wrote to a friend, “is a most accomplished journalist, but I think will turn out a fine critic as well.”
And so he did. Ian Fleming, who had also served in Naval Intelligence, put in the good word to the editors of The Sunday Times of London, and Mr. Russell began reviewing books, plays and musical performances.
In 1945 he married Alexandrine Apponyi. The marriage ended in divorce in 1950. Their daughter, Lavinia Grimshaw of London, survives him, along with Ms. Bernier, two grandchildren and a great-grandson. A second marriage, to Vera Poliakoff, also ended in divorce, in 1971.
In 1950 Mr. Russell was pressed into service as art critic for The Sunday Times after the incumbent was summarily fired for criticizing an exhibition at the Royal Academy.
It was a pivotal moment for British art, one that Mr. Russell influenced in several ways. Unusually open to new talent, he threw his considerable weight behind emerging artists like Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Howard Hodgkin, R. B. Kitaj and Bridget Riley, not only in the pages of The Sunday Times but also in prefaces to exhibition catalogs.
“When I first began writing, my aims as a critic were simple,” he told The Art Newspaper in 1999. “I wanted to persuade people to go and see things that I myself liked.”
The art historian John Richardson said that Mr. Russell “did a huge amount for English art at the time,” adding, “He helped English art climb out of its pre-1939 provincialism and put it on the map.”
A reflection of his taste and influence can be seen in the book “Private View,” a comprehensive survey of the British scene in the mid-1960s, written with Bryan Robertson and featuring photographs by Lord Snowdon.
In addition to promoting new British art, Mr. Russell organized exhibitions devoted to Modigliani, Rouault and Balthus at the Tate, and, with Suzi Gablik, a survey of Pop Art at the Hayward Gallery in London.
In 1974 Mr. Russell was brought to New York by Hilton Kramer, chief art critic of The New York Times. The invitation could not have been more opportune. Mr. Russell was eager to join Ms. Bernier, whom he had first met, and been smitten by, in the mid-1950s when she commissioned him to write for L’Oeil, the Paris-based arts magazine she founded with Georges Bernier, her husband at the time. For years he worshiped from afar. After she and her husband separated, the distance narrowed, and in 1975 the two married.
The wedding was a lavish production. Held in Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., it was attended by the likes of Aaron Copland, Pierre Matisse and Stephen Spender and set to music composed for the occasion by Leonard Bernstein. At the time Ms. Bernier was well on her way to establishing a new career as a writer and as a lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
At The Times Mr. Russell’s fluent, generally laudatory reviews offered a stark contrast to Mr. Kramer’s more combative style.
“He was never mean-spirited, dismissive or brutal,” Mr. Richardson said of Mr. Russell, recalling a deft instance in London in which Mr. Russell was called upon to review the work of a well-born but talentless English painter. “He got around it by saying, ‘We have all wondered what the painting of Charles Ryder in “Brideshead Revisited” might have looked like, and now we know with absolute precision.’ ”
At his best Mr. Russell exhibited sinew and vigor in his appraisals. The art that mattered to him mattered in a highly personal way, and there was something almost tactile in the way he traced the contours of an artist like Bacon or Freud.
“Bacon wrenched, reversed, abbreviated, jellified and generally reinvented the human image,” he wrote in a characteristic passage in “Francis Bacon,” a monograph first published in 1971. “The paint-structure was by turns brusque and sumptuous, lyrical and offhand, pulpy and marmoreal. Swerving, pouncing, colliding with itself, taking for granted the most bizarre conjunctions of impulse, it produced a multiple imagery which was quite new in painting.”
If cornered, Mr. Russell could draw his sword and use it to lethal effect. His review of a show by the sculptor Beverly Pepper in 1987 remains a model of take-no-prisoners criticism. “In its cumulative effect this may well, in fact, be one of the most debilitating, hyped-up and deeply offensive exhibitions of the postwar era,” he wrote in The Times. “This is not because the work is ‘bad,’ but because it does not reach that level of achievement at which the words ‘bad’ and ‘good’ have any meaning.”
The slashing attack, however, he generally left to others. Art, for him, remained a glorious love affair and a lifelong adventure. “When art is made new, we are made new with it,” he wrote in the first volume of “The Meanings of Modern Art.” “We have a sense of solidarity with our own time, and of psychic energies shared and redoubled, which is just about the most satisfying thing that life has to offer.”