Great Works, Hardback Book
4.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


The best of Tom Lubbock, one of Britain's most intelligent, outspoken and revelatory art critics, is collected here for the first time.

There are electrifying insights - using Hitchcock's Suspicion to explore the lighting effects in a Zurbaran still life, imagining three short films to tease out the meanings of El Greco's Boy Lighting a Candle - and cool judgements - how Vuillard's genius is confined to a single decade, when he worked at home, why Ingres is really 'an exciting wierdo'.

Ranging with passionate perspicacity over eight hundred years of Western art, whether it's Giotto's raging vices, Guston's 'slobbish, squidgy' pinks, Gericault's pile of truncated limbs or Gwen John's Girl in a Blue Dress, Tom Lubbock writes with immediacy and authority about the fifty works which most gripped his imagination.




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Review by

This is a book about complexity and specificity in painting. Lubbock makes idiosyncratic choices and always highlights a new aspect, but he works within the standard forms of art criticism, is always illuminating and never repeats himself. He often employs an engaging tactic of first discussing an interesting subject, apparently unconnected with the work at hand, then brings the two together. The book and reproductions are on the small side but large enough to get the point across. It is nicely printed with an elegant and beautiful typeface.

Review by

I came across Tom Lubbock when I read a reference on LT to the book The Iceberg: A Memoir by his wife Marion Coutts, about her life after his death. Clicking through Amazon, I found that Tom Lubbock had also written a memoir, Until Further Notice I Am Still Here, and clicking onward I found that Lubbock was primarily an art critic/writer. As I clicked through his books, I landed on this one, and the striking cover made me covet the book--so much so that I bought it and read it. The book contains 50 short essays on paintings which were originally published in The Independent. There is no rhyme nor reason to the paintings chosen, no particular school to study, no point to make, no "I'm here to teach you", just paintings that struck Lubbock's fancy, and his unique observations about each painting. Here's an example to give you a taste of what the essays are like, from the very first painting, "Boy Lighting Candle" by El Greco. Lubbock begins by asking us to imagine a kitchen sink with the tap flowing, but so slowly that when we look at it we are at first not even aware of the flow of the water. Then he asks us to imagine a man falling against the backdrop of a cliff--somewhat Wiley Coyote--so you keep imagining the end to come, the big crash at the end, but no, the man keeps falling and falling and falling.....Finally Lubbock asks you to imagine a man on a stationary bicycle, pedaling and pedaling away, but getting nowhere. Then you notice a cable which is attached to a dynamo, and you realize the man pedaling the bike is creating the light that lets you see the image of him pedaling. Lubbock then applies these apparently random images by asking you to imagine these three effects in a single picture--El Greco's "Boy Lighting Candle" We see a boy blowing on embers: movement that is invisible, like the water in the tap. We await an imminent climax--the candle bursting into flame--as we await the falling man's impending crash at the bottom of the cliff (which never comes). And the whole image is lit by the ember--but what will happen when the boy stops blowing, the light will fade away, and we will no longer see the image, as with the man pedaling the bike.I thought the way Lubbock brought us into the picture was brilliant. His approach to the other paintings is similar, but all in a way unique to the paintings themselves. I was enthralled. This is not an academic book, it's a book about thinking about painting, and you learn by seeing how one brilliant person thought about painting.Highly recommended.4 stars