I mentioned throughout the fall that when the Wall Street Journal would finally stop being delivered (they kept delivering it long after I stopped paying), I would miss the book reviews, and the arts and culture coverage in general. Thanks to WSJ book reviews, I was led to two books that I would not have read otherwise, Robert P. Crease’s World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement and Max Egremont’s Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia. Add Larry Silver’s Pieter Bruegel to the list.
The last day the Wall Street Journal was delivered was December 23. A few days later, I used my iPad WSJ app to find out how much content was available, and sure enough, it knew I no longer had full privileges. But I discovered that I still had access to a significant amount, including most of the Saturday book reviews and the food-wine-auto coverage. On New Year’s Day, I checked online for the WSJ’s weekend reviews from the day before, and there was Jonathan Lopez’s review of Pieter Bruegel.
I can’t remember when I first became a Bruegel fan. One of his most famous paintings, The Harvesters, is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — the cover of Silver’s book is a detail — but I can’t say I remember admiring it in my childhood. During a stay in Antwerp to attend a conference in 1978, with side trips to Bruges and Brussels, I fell in love with Flemish art. I began to read about it, made sure to stop by The Harvesters when in Manhattan, and checked out the Flemish paintings whenever passing through other major museums, such as the National Gallery in London. In 1983, I returned to Antwerp for another conference and spent more time in museums. In 1985, during our honeymoon, I arranged for us to pass through Antwerp for a couple of days between longer stays in Paris and Glasgow so Gail could share my little hobby. But I haven’t been back to Belgium since.
Regarding The Harvesters, here is its reproduction at the Metropolitan’s website:
And here is what the gallery label says:
This panel is part of a series showing the seasons or times of the year, commissioned from Bruegel by the Antwerp merchant Niclaes Jongelinck. The series included six works, five of which survive. The other four are: “The Gloomy Day,” “Hunters in the Snow,” and “The Return of the Herd” (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); and “Haymaking” (Lobkowicz Collections, Prague).
This remarkable group of pictures is a watershed in the history of Western art. The religious pretext for landscape painting has been suppressed in favor of a new humanism, and Bruegel’s unidealized description of the local scene is based on natural observations.
For years, those Bruegel seasons paintings in the Kunsthistorisches Museum made me eager to visit Vienna. Three decades later, I still haven’t made it, and the list of places Gail and I want to visit keeps growing. Some day. In the meantime, perhaps I can content myself with the book. In the WSJ review, Silver writes that
“Pieter Bruegel,” a superb and sumptuous monograph by the scholar Larry Silver, is an object of beauty in its own right. This large-format volume presents all 40 or so of Bruegel’s surviving paintings and a wide selection of his drawings and prints in color plates that render tone and hue with scrupulous accuracy. Mr. Silver’s text offers an indispensable introduction to Bruegel’s achievement—in Mr. Silver’s phrase, “the epitome of naturalism in art, the climax of the Netherlandish tradition.”
The book isn’t cheap. List price $150.00. But only $91.30 from Amazon, in stock, a lot cheaper than a trip to Vienna.