John Berger, one of the world’s most celebrated art writers, takes us through centuries of drawing and painting, revealing his lifelong fascination with a diverse cast of artists. In Portraits, Berger grounds the artists in their historical milieu in revolutionary ways, whether enlarging on the prehistoric paintings of the Chauvet caves or Cy Twombly’s linguistic and pictorial play.
In penetrating and singular prose, Berger presents entirely new ways of thinking about artists both canonized and obscure, from Rembrandt to Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock to Picasso. Throughout, Berger maintains the essential connection between politics, art and the wider study of culture. The result is an illuminating walk through many centuries of visual culture, from one of the contemporary world’s most incisive critical voices.
See also Landscapes, the companion volume to Portraits.
“John Berger’s Portraits is among the greatest books on art I’ve ever read.”
“In this extraordinary new book, John Berger embarks on a process of rediscovery and refiguring of history through the visual narratives given to us by portraiture. Berger’s ability for storytelling is both incisive and intriguing. He is one of the greatest writers of our time.”
“A rich and loving exploration of art history, at once intellectually acute and deeply personal … vital and uncommonly engaging proof of concept for ideas that Berger has long espoused.”
“A volume whose breadth and depth bring it close to a definitive self-portrait of one of Britain’s most original thinkers.”
“Perhaps the greatest living writer on art … reminds us just how insufficient most art commentary is these days … an indispensible guide to understanding art from cave painting to today’s experimenters.”
“John Berger teaches us how to think, how to feel, how to stare at things till we see what we thought wasn’t there. But above all he teaches us how to love in the face of adversity. He is a master.”
“Unruly attentiveness animates … a lifetime’s engagement with artists like Rembrandt, Goya, Henry Moore and Francis Bacon … Ingenious, jargon-free and direct … Berger is a formidable stylist.”
“Berger writes about what is important—in contemporary English letters, he seems to be peerless; not since Lawrence has there been a writer who offers such attentiveness to the sensual world with responsiveness to the imperatives of conscience. He is a wonderful artist and thinker.”
“Shows the 88-year-old British art critic at his bristling best.”
“John Berger is always illuminating and his latest book, Portraits, doesn’t disappoint”
“A near exhaustive selection of the ever astute writer’s ‘responses’ to various artists and works, chronologically organised from early cave paintings through to the Palestinian artist Randa Mdah.”
“A vast and nourishing compendium … Life has more light and colour after an encounter with Berger.”
“Berger has always been a writer who understands that art does not begin and end with the canvas—instead, art (and great art writing) should stay with us as a communion between the overlapping titles we assign as portraits: wife, person, genius, artist. These titles, when carefully assigned, could be limiting, but in Berger’s expert hands, they are just the beginning.”
“Berger’s art criticism transcends its genre to become a very rare thing—literature.”
“In the writings of John Berger we find a passion for art itself, for the created thing, that is everywhere tempered by an awareness of the social and political world, which too many theorists, whatever their special pleadings, simply ignore.”
“[Berger] long ago attained a position unrivalled among English writers or intellectuals of his generation; he seems to stand for a vanished era of critical and political seriousness … All that seems worth preservng and worth celebrating in a long and varied but essential volume like Portraits.”
“Regardless of the era he studies or the decade in which he writes, his lyrical prose always ultimately serves a fervent political concern … Berger’s writing is fearless, winnowing down canonized artists to their essential political bones.”
“This insistence upon unearthing for the present viewer the hidden labor of the artist, when coupled with his own technical knowledge of painterly art, delivers Berger’s essays from the tedium of much art criticism.”
“The pages are rife with muscular prose, sinewy intellectualism, and especially the sensual analogy for which he is most known. Portraits is so lively a book it can feel uncanny”
“Much of his best critical prose appears in [this] chunky volume.”