A Concise History of Art by Germain Bazin

A Concise History of Art by Germain Bazin
Concise. Now with 16 colour pictures.

This 1958 work came from the mind of the Louvre Museum’s curator between 1951 and 1965. Germain Bazin (1901-1990) used his art historian knowledge to craft an alternative to E.H. Gombrichs The Story of Art (1950).

Since pre-history, humans have indulged in artistic endeavours. And from those early cave paintings to the present day, artistic expression has helped to define humanity. So, let’s take a look at all that painting and drawing stuff.

A Concise History of Art

“Concise”, for Monsieur Bazin, is a 530 page tome of at least 100,000 words. C’est suffisant.

And crammed around that are 717 illustrations of ancient and contemporary art—16 of which are in colour (we like that little addition on the book’s front cover).

The blurb on the inside of the cover describes the work as “immense”, which it is indeed. It also clarifies Monsieur Bazin approached the work from a “concise” view—in the sense it should be easy to understand.

We can’t all be art historians, so he’s simplifying the complexities of pre-history, through antiquity, the Middle Ages, Age of Discovery, and up to the likes of van Gogh and Pablo Picasso.

In the preface, Bazin remarks how difficult his project was:

"Anyone trying to write a short history of art is liable to find his work being compared with Solomon Reinach's famous Apollo which served as a manual for several generations of students. At all events the task has become remarkably more complicated since the time when Reinach wrote his 'manual' in 1905. Since that day many civilizations have been more fully explored or even freshly discovered."

It’s quite the undertaking to compile thousands of years into one book, an achievement E.M. Gombrich managed twice—his other effort is A Little History of the World (1936).

Bazin uses an impartial tone throughout, documenting the history of nations new, old, and long gone (the Aztecs, for example). All of which played out to incredible artistic feats.

A page from the Codex Borgia - circa BC 1500
A page from the Codex Borgia – circa BC 1500.

Certainly we’re finding 20th century abstract work more endearing with each new artist we come across (as our recent Wassily Kandinsky On White II post shows).

Although one issue with A Concise History of Art is the lack of colour prints. The 717 illustrations in black and white don’t quite hold the same impact as the colourful real versions.

Take, for example, Robert Delaunay’s piece below from 1912. Without the colours it takes on an entirely new meaning.

The Three Windows, the Tower, and the Wheel by Robbert Delaunay
The Three Windows, the Tower, and the Wheel by Robbert Delaunay – 1912.

Not that it matters too much in this day and age. As we can easily head off online and take a closer look at some of the paintings that took our fancy.

Yet it’s a shame this book doesn’t have a modern print edition, full of colour imagery and whatnot.

But as Bazin was surely well aware, whilst his words are engaging and endearing, most readers are here to skim-read and see the various works of art.

Thanks to this book, we’ve already discovered an incredible batch of new painters. Take Spanish artist and sculptor Joan Miró with the below surrealist thing.

The Harlequin's Carnival - Joan Miró - 1924
The Harlequin’s Carnival – Joan Miró – 1924.

We found our tour through the work engaging and enlightening, even if the translator of the English version could have done with learning what indenting is.

Certainly, we recommend the book all he same—if you can find a secondhand copy. Although Gombrich’s The Story of Art is superior, still in print, and available in incredible quality.

Either one will introduce you to all manner of new brilliant artists. So take your pick, eh? There’s a glorious creative world out there.

Art & Manchester

Wall mural by Amy Coney
This piece is by Amy Coney.

It may rain a lot in here in Manchester, but there’s an active artistic scene in the city’s Northern Quarter.

Nothing can stop a Northerner from completing a project. Unless Corrie is on t’idiot box, eh?

We documented a bit of Manc art recently with our Blue Tit in Manchester mural. Cheers to Resa from Canada for complementing that with images of Arnold Schwarzenegger! He’ll be back.

Anyway, there was a dedicated account to Manchester city centre’s Northern Quarter (NQ) art scene. It’s here.

Unfortunately, there’s no update of any sort over the last 15 weeks. And the link to the website is down.

So, for now at least, that appears to not document any Mancunian artistic expression stuff.

But let’s not forget Manchester’s very own John Squire of The Stone Roses, is a distinguished artist in his own right.

So it may well rain a lot here. And Mancs may love getting wasted, starting a fight, and having a kebab.

But look beyond the patter of rain and crumbling decay of working class era buildings and you’ll find a subtle world of artistic delights.

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