A selection of essays on modern art brought out by Yale University Press earlier this year.
In his review for The London Magazine, Andrew Lambirth said: “Peppiatt is always worth reading and there isn’t a dud in this stimulating collection.”
“The Making of Modern Art by Michael Peppiatt is a collection of previously published pieces (the author calls it a ‘scrapbook’) ranging from the 1960s to date. It demonstrates once again Peppiatt’s gifts of lively récit, vivid description and jargon-free assessment, which he has spent a lifetime honing and fruitfully applying to art and artists. Here we have a number of the big names of Modern Art, such as Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti, Bacon and Jackson Pollock, but also a good admixture of the lesser-celebrated. Among these I would mention Vieira da Silva, Zoran Mušič and Nicolas de Staël – all of whom are not nearly well-known enough in this country. Peppiatt’s choice is inevitably Gallocentric, after all he has lived and worked for most of his life in Paris, but none the less valid for that.
His admitted bias towards figuration at the expense of abstraction is potentially far more worrying; perhaps this is why he is more moved by van Gogh than Cézanne. At one point, in an essay on Klimt, he suggests that artists attempted to conceal the fundamental postwar malaise, or deep uneasiness with life, by disposing of the human figure and going abstract. Clearly he feels this is some sort of betrayal of art, or art’s primary subject. He takes his lead from his mentor Francis Bacon, who dismissed all abstraction as mere decoration.
In his introduction, Peppiatt notes that this collections of reviews, catalogue prefaces and interviews is a kind of voyage of discovery (the critic doing his learning in public), moving, as he puts it, ‘from youthful dilettantism and journalistic necessity to deep commitment’. He muses that such an anthology may be ‘as close as one gets to a true autobiography, a compendium of one’s tastes and times.’ One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book is the new introduction he has written for each piece, a compact reflection on the history of the writing and Peppiatt’s feelings about the artist, mingled with more personal memories and anecdotes. I would pick out for special notice the compelling essay on Maillol, the story of the correspondence between Dubuffet and James Fitzsimmons, and the detailed investigation of the School of London. But Peppiatt is always worth reading and there isn’t a dud in this stimulating collection.“