Cover image for Art : a field guide
Art : a field guide
Cumming, Robert, 1943-
Personal Author:
lst American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf, 2001.
Physical Description:
480 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N31 .C86 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Your eyes will indeed be opened, and what you see in works of art will come newly alive when you have Robert Cumming, the former chairman of Christie's International Art Studies, as your guide. With tremendous erudition and tart, provocative opinions, Cumming zeroes in on the essential characteristics of more than 770 painters, showing us, for example, what it was that made Rembrandt's art unique. He explains the conventions of narrative and iconography in Western art, such as the representation of St. Lawrence, who is always seen lying on a hot griddle. And Cumming defines several hundred terms-- both technical (gouache, sfumato, craquelure) and critical/historical (Expressionism, Mannerism, the Hudson River School)-- that so often mystify a viewer. Cumming's no-nonsense guide is enlightening and entertaining; lavishly illustrated with the key works of hundreds of artists; concise and portable enough to use in the "field" (museums and galleries); and so substantial you will refer to it often at home. There is nothing likeART.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

For a less site-specific and more monetarily focused tour of art history, Art: A Field Guide covers more 770 painters in 700 full-color illustrations, noting how many of their works sold between 2001 and 2000 (with figures on lowest and high prices achieved), along with the highest price paid at auction prior to December 31, 2000 or the record price. Robert Cumming, formerly of London's Tate Gallery and Christie's auction house, is now an independent writer and curator. He explains key forms, techniques, movements and styles, and puts his eye to serious yet entertaining use in this romp through the trade. Readers addicted to Antiques Roadshow will get a similar thrill, with or without the cash to put the book to use. (Nov. 18) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A former chair of Christie's International Art Studies, the auction house's educational arm, Cumming is well qualified to produce a guide for lay readers to art history's biggest names and recurring themes. In the introduction, he promises to present the sort of "informed discussion or exchange of opinions" that he used to engage in as a gallery guide at the Tate in London. He has also tried to pack a lot of information into a small package, creating a book that is indeed the size and shape of a birdwatcher's manual. Unfortunately, these two goals sometimes conflict. In three sections, Cumming defines 770 artists, 680 symbols or story elements, and 650 tools, techniques, and movements. The artists' section occupies well over half of the book and will be of the most use. Each entry begins with the artist's name, years of birth and death, and nationality and concludes with auction prices and, occasionally, the name of a museum or two that hold significant collections by the artist. One to three paragraphs in the middle offer biographical information or "what to look for" and "details to pay attention to" according to symbols preceding the paragraphs. These texts can be too terse in style, and one occasionally gets the feeling that Cumming has rushed ahead to make a point to his peers without giving the basic information his lay audience might need. More often, though, he serves up some flourish that will steer readers to a greater appreciation of the works before them assuming they actually bring this along to a museum. That is where this book will get the most use, which makes the auction information (difficult to interpret in the best circumstances) seem irrelevant. The last two sections, on symbols and on tools, techniques, and movements, will be of minimal use in any setting owing to the brevity of the entries. Most appropriate as a travel guide supplement, this belongs in medium and large general circulating collections but will get little use behind the reference desk or in art libraries. Eric Bryant, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-A handy book for novices who would like to have some idea of what to look for during a trip to the art museum. In his introduction, Cumming explains that while working with the public at the Tate Gallery, he learned that most amateurs have four basic questions when confronted with a work of art: What should I look for? What's going on? What is its value? Is it any good? This book answers those questions for more than 770 painters in a concise, easy-to-follow manner. Section one offers an alphabetical listing of artists. Section two consists of an alphabetical listing of "Subjects and Stories." Personalities such as Achilles, Benedict, and James the Just are described, and subjects such as flagellation, mirror, and scales are briefly explained. Cross-references are included. The glossary that comprises the third section defines artistic terms such as abstract expressionism, foreshortening, and gamboge and, when applicable, indicates an artist from section one that illustrates the term. "Art on the Internet" lists sites for reference books and portals; online art journals; and online auction sites, museums, and archives. The index allows searching by artist, title, or subject. The book will help art students who want a quick reference, but it is definitely intended for those with no previous background. The only drawback is that space considerations do not allow all of the paintings described to be shown in the book. The full-color photos that are included add greatly to the explanations.-Carol DeAngelo, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.