The Hare with Amber Eyes

I had The Hare with Amber Eyes on my bookshelf for about a year and initially, I wasn’t too keen on reading it. Here’s the premise: the author (Edmund de Waal) inherits from his great-uncle 264 netsuke—small wood and ivory carvings from Japan, and he traces their history. For some reason, it didn’t sound that intriguing to me, but then I ran into a colleague slipping away to read during her lunch break: what was the book? The Hare with Amber Eyes.

Curiosity piqued, I dusted off my copy and started in on an amazing journey. De Waal descends from the illustrious Ephrussi family, famous for its vast fortunes in the 19th and early 20th centuries from grain distribution, shipping, and banking. The book is particularly relevant to fans of the Phillips since de Waal starts his story in Paris, in the home of Charles Ephrussi. Familiar with the cast of characters from Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party? Then you’ll recognize Charles as the figure towards the back of the painting wearing a top hat and suit. Ephrussi purchased the netsuke from a dealer in the 1870s, and de Waal’s writing transports us to fin de siècle Paris where we get to know Charles and his circle of luminaries, including Marcel Proust, Édouard Manet, and of course, Renoir. Continue reading “The Hare with Amber Eyes” »

O’Keeffe and Stieglitz: a Doorstopper of Love Letters

Alfred Stieglitz, photographer, patron, art dealer, and friend of Duncan Phillips, died on July 13, 1946.

Recently, the library was kindly given a copy of the newly published collection, My Faraway One: selected letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: Volume I, 1915-1933. A substantial book, it is merely a selection of the 25,000 pages these two artists wrote to each other. The book donor commented to our librarian that she found the frequency and specificity of the letters to sound almost like Twitter feeds, O’Keeffe and Stieglitz updating each other on nearly every waking moment of their days. A letter on page 513 begins, “My dearest Alfred . . . I had your two registered letters yesterday afternoon- also your telegram . . . ” Another references a previous letter of 40 pages! Editor Sarah Greenough, who has had a long scholarly relationship with both artists and knew O’Keeffe, has carefully presented these intimate materials according to O’Keeffe’s spare but direct wishes: “make it beautiful and keep it honest.” The book is widely available and on sale in the Phillips shop.

The Object of Some Affection

An Object to Beauty by Steve Martin

Much noise has been made surrounding Steve Martin’s latest book. Supposedly written as a reflection on the art world (Martin is known in some circles for his impressive personal collection) it has instead become a sticking point between him and his readers who expect. . . well, less. They seem to want less of Martin as an art elitist and more of his “wild and crazy” comedic persona.

Whatever cinematic images his name conjures, Martin is an author. In this novel he weaves the real with the surreal, dropping the names of well known artists and conjuring the spirits of others under fictional aliases. The book spans the career of Lacey Yeager, who enters as an inexperienced auction house intern and quickly proves herself a skilled social climber. Wildly opportunistic, self-centered, and a self-described “petty person”, Lacey is as unlikeable a protagonist as one may be able to tolerate. But there is enough wit and art world wisdom in this book to make for a satisfying read. Continue reading “The Object of Some Affection” »