Picks and Pans Review: The Artist in His Studio

updated 03/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Alexander Liberman

Most of the artists Liberman covers were still alive when he visited their studios and took the photographs for this book, first published in 1960 and available again in this updated version. An ailing Matisse dragged himself out of bed to talk. Picasso showed Liberman through his cluttered rooms in Vallauris and then sat for his portrait in a huge black limousine parked in the middle of his workshop. This is one of the more haunting photographs in The Artist in His Studio. Such painters as Cézanne, Monet and Bonnard, on the other hand, had died by the time Liberman started his book. But he visited and photographed their studios, and part of his achievement is that whether they were still alive or merely ghosts hovering above their easels, his subjects emerge as vivid, idiosyncratic presences. This handsome new edition has been expanded—particularly the Picasso chapter. It is slightly marred by its glossy pages—too high key and slick for the dignity and integrity of Liberman's work. (There are a few unforgivable typos, too—the poet Shelley becomes "Shelly," for one.) Then art director of Condé Nast Publications and now editorial director, Liberman was a voyeur in his element, missing nothing as he scanned these amazing rooms scattered across France. He photographed skulls on a shelf in Cézanne's studio at Aix and noted the master's black wool cape hanging in a corner of the room. "This studio, stark and sad, a room of anguish and torment, was also the shell of a hardened egotist," he writes. "Cézanne sacrificed all personal human contacts to achieve his vision." Liberman, himself a painter and sculptor, weaves conversation, biography and art history into his absorbing essays. Some of the artists bared their souls to him. Georges Rouault was angered that the art establishment in France had ignored him until late in his career. Then, French officials decided to seat him in the Académie des Beaux-Arts. "They've let me be in my little nook," he complained. "And now that I'm half dead they have tried to come and fetch me.... You can guess I sent them away with their tails between their legs, eh?" When Liberman visited Utrillo, a shuffling, tragic figure, in his gray-walled villa, the artist's aggressive wife told Liberman she bought her husband a blue suit to wear to the 1949 marriage of Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan so "he would look more like a master." Then there was Brancusi, who thought he would die if he were photographed. Instead Liberman photographed a forest of Brancusi's curving, totem-like sculptures. That resourcefulness is characteristic of the creativity Liberman brought to this work. In its second incarnation, it should bring pleasure to a new generation of art lovers. (Random House, $60)

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