Feature

Also of interest...in the lives of artists

Alice Neel by Phoebe Hoban; Modigliani: A Life by Meryle Secrest; The H.D. Book by Robert Duncan; Art and Madness by Anne Roiphe

Alice Neel
by Phoebe Hoban
(St. Martin’s, $35)
This first full-length biography of the painter Alice Neel “methodically” documents an outrageous life, said Jonathan Lopez in The Boston Globe. Neel, best known for caricature-like but “psychologically rich” portraits of art-world heavyweights, lived a tragedy-filled life as a single mother in New York. Author Phoebe Hoban dug deeply to bring us the details, letting us glimpse how Neel thrived on melodrama. But her heavy reliance on others’ words “makes for a somewhat flat” read.

Modigliani: A Life
by Meryle Secrest
(Knopf, $35)
“Since his death at 35 of tubercular meningitis,” Amedeo Modigliani has assumed “a mythic stature, but not for his art,” said Ann Levin in the Associated Press. For biographer Meryle Secrest, Modigliani’s reputation as a “drunken, drug-addicted, womanizing” debaucher in fin de siècle Paris has for too long overshadowed the merits of his “swan-neck” portraits and nudes. “Although Secrest doesn’t stint on lurid details of Modigliani’s life, she argues persuasively that he was a true visionary.”

The H.D. Book
by Robert Duncan
(Univ. of Calif., $50)
Robert Duncan’s literary homage to the poet H.D. (née Hilda Doolittle) is a “wild, dazzling, idiosyncratic magnum opus,” said Jed Perl in The New Republic. Completed in 1964 but recently published in its complete form for the first time, the book captures the essence of H.D.’s sensual poetry and the effect it had on Duncan, who considered her a muse. A project that “began as a brief birthday homage” turned “into one of the greatest of all meditations on the nature of the modern artistic imagination.”

Art and Madness
by Anne Roiphe
(Nan A. Talese, $25)
Septuagenarian writer Anne Roiphe still hasn’t fully grown up, said Joyce Johnson in The New York Times. In this memoir about her self-damaging attempts to play muse to more than one bad-boy writer of the 1960s, she still blames her choices on her first husband’s great talent and her own existential despair. Perhaps this book’s “one truly stunning moment” is when she asks, “Was I myself an abyss? Or was I an imposter abyss?” That “line of inquiry” would have been worth pursuing.

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