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Category Archive for 'Biography'

However many surprises the artwork of Felix Vallotton (1865 – 1925) may provide for the viewer, this book, a record of two art shows in 2019 and 2020, will provide even more. Five critics, including novelist Patrick McGuinness, give important general information about why Vallotton, a Swiss, may not have received the attention of artists like the impressionists and post-impressionists who were purveyors of new styles. Vallotton,. too, provides new views of the world, but his are unique, not part of a movement. In addition to his insightful, often personal, and sometimes even amusing, paintings, Vallotton revived the whole concept of the wood block print, creating dozens of commentaries on daily life from his perspective as an anarchist, used in newspapers, often in place of cartoons. One picture of one painting by Vallotton, sent to me by a friend this past year, was all it took to unleash weeks of pleasure for me through the study of Vallotton’s work. This book, filled with many pages of color photographs and block prints, will lead, I hope, to similar discoveries among others who read and view it and celebrate the new worlds it opens.

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A new investigation into the story of Anne Frank and her Jewish family during World War II in Amsterdam concentrates on how they were betrayed after spending twenty-six months in hiding and who may have been responsible. Author Rosemary Sullivan spent much time with the leaders of the recently completed investigation, which ultimately lasted five years and involved two dozen experts in a variety of fields, from artificial intelligence to behavioral science and archiving. Led by Director of Investigation Vince Pankoke, a former FBI investigator, the researchers searched archives in eight countries in an effort to provide the whole truth regarding the fate of Anne Frank and most of her family.

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Using known facts and details provided by Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, following Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797, at age thirty-eight, author Samantha Silva creates an intense and vibrant fictional biography of a woman many generations ahead of her time. The feminist ideals she exemplifies in her life, which shocked the women of her own time, include her years-long relationship with a woman friend and her desire to set up a “female utopia” with her; her establishment with others of a school for young women under the banner of being “dissenters” from the Church of England; her flagrant affairs with two well-known writer-philosophers; her stay in France and support of the French Revolution; and her much-loved child from her out-of-wedlock relationship with Gilbert Imlay. The publication of her ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), considered “one of the trailblazing works of feminism,” added to her reputation as one of the early founders of feminist philosophy. In author Samantha Silva’s hands, however, Mary’s story becomes completely human, with two narratives conveying her life stories from two different times and perspectives. Here Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminist beliefs play out within the context of her life two hundred years ago, as these ideas come vibrantly to life among writers, publishers, and political leaders during that time.

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With a first chapter set at the Stork Club, where Oona O’Neill, then a sixteen-year-old “voluptuous child,” sits at Walter Winchell’s Table 50, author Jerome Charyn creates a mood of wild nights and war-fueled abandon in New York shortly after the recent Pearl Harbor attack. Oona, young daughter of Nobel-Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, is waiting for her beau, J. D. Salinger (Sonny) and an evening of fun and dance. That night Salinger receives his draft notice to appear immediately at Fort Dix for counterintelligence work for the US. He spends the next three years at war in Europe, and everything changes. Those whose familiarity with the life of J. D. Salinger focuses primarily on his hermit-like existence later in life, will find his early activities from 1942 – 1946, detailed in the opening chapters at the Stork and in the crises he faces throughout the war, particularly insightful of his life and personality. Author Jerome Charyn is particularly careful to connect the events in ways which allow the reader to feel the traumas and horrors and to gain some understanding of the dramatic changes in his personality after the war.

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When author Marc Petitjean was contacted in Paris by a Mexican writer named Oscar, who wanted to meet him to talk about Marc Petitjean’s father Michel, the author’s interest was piqued. His father, a “left-wing militant” journalist, and associate of avant-garde artists and writers in Paris, had been dead for twenty years. When they met, Oscar pulled out a short manuscript he had written with information acquired from the archives of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, indicating that she had had an affair with Michel Petitjean during the three months she had been in Paris from early January to late March, 1939. An affair between the author’s father and Kahlo was new information to son Marc Petitjohn, who almost dismissed it as “overblown.” Still, Frida Kahlo had given his father one of her best paintings when she returned to Mexico after that three-month visit in 1939. Ultimately, “Oscar’s curiosity kindled my own, and I in turn embarked on researching the lovers’ lives.” The developing love story of Frida Kahlo and Michel Petitjean is inextricably connected with the fraught pre-war political atmosphere of Paris in 1939, the boiling artistic and philosophical ferment of the period, and the close, interconnected friendships among Joan Miro, Kadinsky, Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and “other big cacas of Surrealism.” When she finally departs from France after three months, Michel Petitjean has thought ahead to have letters and notes delivered to her along the way.

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