Linda Nochlin

Linda Nochlin teaches art history at New York University Institute of Fine Arts.

Louise Bourgeois is one of the two pre-eminent sculptors working today; the other is Richard Serra, whose sculpture – single-minded, monolithic, public – offers the most striking contrast to hers in both form and content. Serra is Isaiah Berlin’s hedgehog exemplified in heavy metal: Louise Bourgeois is the fox, an artist of many devices, to borrow a Homeric epithet which...

I, too, am an artist: Dora Maar

Linda Nochlin, 4 January 2001

Most people, if they think of Dora Maar at all, remember her as the subject of one of Picasso’s most persistent and variegated portrait series. There is Dora Maar the elegant woman of the world in Femme à la résille (Woman with a Snood) of 1938, one of a group of brightly coloured portraits of the sitter done in that year in which she is wearing bizarre headgear. This Dora...

Mary Cassatt’s Lady at the Tea Table (1883-85) establishes her as one of the outstanding American painters of the 19th century. Indeed, it is one of the most remarkable portraits, American or not, of its time. A subtle combination of strength and fragility, the painting shows Mrs Riddle, Cassatt’s first cousin once removed. The sitter rejected it, apparently feeling that it did not do justice to her reputation as a great beauty. Certainly, it is not a flattering portrait, of the kind that John Singer Sargent was producing for a satisfied clientèle. If we compare it to a slightly later Sargent portrait – Lady Agnew, for example – we find the pose of Cassatt’s subject far more rigid, the costume and decor more severe; the tell-tale signs of age, especially about the mouth and chin, are carefully observed, if not exaggerated; the wonderfully quirky nose’s sharp tip is enhanced by a visible dab of white pigment; the horizontal flare of the nostril is anything but classic. What Mrs Riddle has is character, something as different from the vapid elegance of Sargent’s sitter as it is from the primitive energy of another almost contemporary portrait of a female sitter, Van Gogh’s La Mère Roulin.’

Big Daddy

Linda Nochlin, 30 October 1997

There often seems to be a connection between the style of an art historian or critic and that of his or her favourite artist. Reading Tim Clark on Courbet, it is easy to see the reasons why the writer chose his subject: iconoclasm, a bold and aggressive rejection of stylistic precedence and traditional modes of expression are common to both. In the case of Robert Hughes, author of the monumental American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America, the artist of choice would be John Singer Sargent, brilliant pictorial chronicler of the beau monde of the 19th century. Like Sargent, Hughes is a brilliant crowd-dazzler and populariser; like Sargent, he is unadventurous in his choice of precedents; like Sargent, a dashing but flattering wielder of the brush, he is a writer whose pen rarely causes pain or difficulty to his readers. I am sure one of the reasons Hughes ‘gets’ Sargent so well, without condescending to him as most academic art historians do, is that he seems to identify so strongly with him. Of the fashionable bravura brushwork and stereotypically aristocratic feminine charm offered by the portraitist’s Lady Agnew, Hughes declares: ‘there is a perfect match between the decorous luxuriance of Lady Agnew’s pose, the creaminess of the paint, and the shadow of tension on her face. For that, one can forgive a lot of the routine rich and famous work that Sargent himself would later disparage as his “paughtraits”.’ One might say the same of Robert Hughes, with a few modifications to account for differences of medium.

The Vanishing Brothel

Linda Nochlin, 6 March 1997

I must have been quite young the first time I saw Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon at the Museum of Modern Art, barely into my teens. I knew little about Cubism, less about Iberian sculpture, and nothing at all about the title’s supposed reference to a brothel in Barcelona; I am not sure I even knew what a brothel was. All I knew was that this was a great masterpiece by the greatest artist of our time, and I responded with appropriate awe and admiration. I had grown up with a tastefully framed reproduction of a rather saccharine Blue Period little girl over my bed, and the Demoiselles – angular, colourful, mysterious, aggressive, like nothing I had ever seen before – seemed to me a great improvement from every point of view. The last thing that would have then occurred to me was that the painting had anything to do with the visual representation of sex. The latter I associated with stolen glimpses of Varga Girls in my uncle’s copies of Esquire, with their satiny, airbrushed bosoms, svelte, impossibly long legs and perversely high-arched feet. Sex also had something to do, on the other hand, with the two most terrifying and exciting images in Thomas Craven’s Treasury of Art Masterpieces: with Fouquet’s Agnès Sorel as the Virgin, where the sitter’s globular white breast thrusts it-self provocatively out at the viewer above a tightly-laced bodice; and with Grünewald’s green, twisted, lacerated body of Christ on the Cross, which, since it figured suffering and Christianity, both outside the pale in my progressive Jewish family, I associated, not unreasonably, with the equally forbidden realm of the sexual.’

As the ‘woman question’ surged through Europe and America in the 19th century and pressed on politics, education and the law, it also washed through cultural sensibilities....

Read More

Sans Sunflowers

David Solkin, 7 July 1994

The tremors of political unrest that rocked so many universities on both sides of the Atlantic during the late Sixties and early Seventies had important repercussions in many of the humanities...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences