Andrew Forge

Andrew Forge is a professor at Yale University Art School and a painter. He has published books on Soutine, Monet and Degas, among other artists.

Some of Lawrence’s earliest paintings are self-portraits in the mould of Courbet – the painter as Artist. Latterly the role was deepened in its tragic aspect, the artist as Marsyas flayed. Lawrence’s gift to us, his perennial celebration of substance, richness, colour, the great blossoming of form – to use one of his own phrases – all in the name of painting, was never unattached from a sense of mortality. He had looked at death several times. His torrential energy was matched by his stoicism. When he talked about painters and painting, it was always to ruminate about a life story, the meaning of a journey, a journey in which he had a personal stake. His writing was above all imaginative, and even when it was at its most scholarly one had the feeling of being swept along in a creation of the imagination, as in a great novel. It was not a narrative of events he told, but rather a rehearsal of how his subjects had told themselves the greater narrative of painting. Lawrence talked about the art of the past as one reliving a family romance that stretched back centuries and whose unknown dénouement was anticipated with an excitement that was almost unbearable. As in any family epic, there were times when it seemed that identities became almost interchangeable: Vermeer becoming Bill Coldstream – or perhaps it was the other way round – Constable finding room at his elbow for Lawrence’s first teacher Maurice Field. Cézanne, of course, was an ideal father – and an ideal self.’

The New York art scene in the Eighties presented spectacle of almost unrelieved decadence, in which the ‘virtues’ of the Reagan era ruled. In this desert of greed, vanity and corruption one could always rely on the tonic of Robert Hughes pieces in Time and the New York Review of Books, now collected. He lays about him splendidly, not sparing any link in the chain that tethers...

Jackson breaks the ice

Andrew Forge, 4 April 1991

It was a small world that New York artists shared in the Thirties, defined by philistine hostility or Francophile indifference. The Great Depression that had made so much useless made the uselessness of art irrefutable and absurd. Then came the miracle of the WPA. Painters were paid just to paint.

At the Café Central

Andrew Forge, 22 March 1990

For as long as he has been exhibiting Kitaj has been publishing commentary on his pictures. With him the two activities interlock, coming closer to the idea of the calligram that Foucault played with in his essay on Magritte than to anything that we usually expect from artists’ statements, almost always touched as they are with bravado in the face of the incompatibility of words and pictures. The calligram ‘sets the most perfect trap … It guarantees capture, as neither discourse alone nor a pure drawing could do.’ So Kitaj has made as if to trap us in his meanings – except that his continual revisions and re interpretations promise escape. Five years ago he wrote that he had become ‘an interested Jew’. This was in the catalogue that announced a group of pictures he called a Jewish Passion. He wrote of the chimney form that many of them contained as ‘my own very primitive attempt at an equivalent symbol, like the cross’.’

Leisure’s Utmost

Andrew Forge, 30 March 1989

Both these books look at aspects of painting during the Second Empire from a sociological point of view. Patricia Mainardi takes the two Universal Expositions of 1855 and 1867 as the markers of a crucial change, the shift of taste that set the stage for modern painting. History painting, the highest form of the art was on the way out. Writers of the left were the first to see what was happening. Religious and heroic painting were dying, Castagnary told the readers of his first Salon review, ‘to the same degree that theocracy and monarchy, the social structures that supported them are dying’. By 1867, conservative critics were saying the same thing: ‘We can see it clearly today,’ Charles Blanc told his readers in a review of the second Universal Exposition: ‘Twelve years have sufficed for us to lose interest in Grand Painting.’ The story that Mainardi tells in fascinating detail is a story of opportunism and manipulation on the part of the court, and of an artistic policy that no longer pretended to deal in ‘noble’ values but rather in entertainment, a version of bread and circuses. Ingres had died not long before the opening of the Exposition of 1867. It was the end of an epoch. ‘His presence among us was a guarantee, his life a safeguard,’ Léon Lagrange declared. ‘His death breaks the last tie of moderation that was holding back anarchy.’

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