General Editor R. H. WILENSKI

ONE of the blessings of advertising, we are told, is that it robs the poor of their “damned want-less-ness.” Nowadays, that is, no one is poor: the poor have become “average consumers,” no less statistical but a good deal more figmentary than when they were just poor.

The average consumer buys 0.5 of a book, of any book, each year. What infinitesimal proportion of an art-book he may buy is any body's guess: over a whole life time one might reckon it at less than half a monograph – and even this will be bought mostly as a regulation gift to someone else. Are we to conclude that art books are ineffectively advertised? In the usual meaning of the term we obviously are -- there is no faith that a mass market might be created, and little wonder in that, but the more surprising is it to notice that new ventures in Art publishing occur with increasing frequency, whilst older ones continue to flourish. It seems we must conclude, therefore, that the market for art-books is growing, but as the result of infiltration rather than direct assault.

To some extent this is due to the developments in art education that have taken place concurrently, in as much as schools give most children their first chance to see an actual art-book. Most people over thirty have never seen one, yet most people under twenty may actually have opened one. But the “want” of that peer group symbol which is a book of reproductions (or an LP. record or a potted plant or any other contemporary totem) is no doubt more subtly contracted -- through the taste exchanging between different social groups, especially in the Comprehensive School; through the multiplicity of advertisements and journals which carry an overtone of implied social know-how; through television and the cinema; and through the spread perhaps of that pattern of adolescent revolt which at a certain level has always used art-making to symbolize its identity.

Yet, though he does not create it, once the want is established, the publisher who tries to exploit it must consider the size of purse, the intellectual level, and the cultural breadth of his prospective consumer; whilst he coaxes the want from its original diffuseness to his present specification, colourful, glittering and crisp: a social want and a sensual pleasure.

Thus it is that nowadays any youth may do the Grand Tour -- in an armchair. The Riviera has come to the bed-sitter, and a hundred years of scholarship are condensed, with the painter's oeuvre, into twenty or so pages -- and this serial universe, which began for us with the comic strip, has for its last installment the monograph. So it is that we increasingly look for an artist's “development,” and expect it to show. We are no longer content with the perpetual hors d' oeuvre of a single reproduction but must consume a ten course meal at every sitting, devouring the painter whole -- to his very tripes. It would be interesting to know how much an awareness of this impels the frantic scramble for “development” that occupies the modern tyro's years of indiscretion.

If any such imputation could be held against the art-book it might easily be outweighed however by any of the many merits of the Faber Gallery. This series, now numbering over sixty titles, is still economically priced, in spite of doubled production costs since it was begun in 1945 at six shillings. Its reproductions are painstakingly faithful (they are often revised three or four times) and each volume is seductively presented, while the texts, written by chosen authorities, often achieve a virtuoso level. The books noted here are additions to the Gallery during the last eighteen months and several of them arc particularly praiseworthy.

My favourite is Robert Melville's study of SAMUEL PALMER. Mr. Melville's goat-feet have never danced a prettier caveat in the court of pure aesthetics than here beneath the horned moon of Palmer's Shoreham. He has produced a profound and beautiful book to be missed neither by his own admirers nor Palmer's.

Roger Hinks has produced a new and refreshing light on EL GRECO, dispersing the vapours of angst in which our own mannerist preoccupations have shrouded him; Charles Johnson has made a sympathetic and typically well-documented study of MEMLINC and James Laver's FRAGONARD is written in a style of particular felicity with the painter's own airy grace. It is a welcome experience, too, to read R. H. Wilenski's unsentimental assessment of TOULOUSE LAUTREC and a delight to find BONNARD'S succulence so well reproduced in Denys Sutton's book, though the author oddly hails Bonnard as the forerunner of the abstract in painting! Since he also says that Bonnard “began to shun literary themes only in the ‘twenties” this claim is most strange -- unless he is thinking of abstract expressionism (“Bonnard cherit l'accident,” as Degas said): certainly the Tachists claim other ancestors, and as Mr. Sutton is a protagonist of theirs he might have made such a topical point more clearly.

The more formal painters inevitably provide more gristle, and MONDRIAN as usual de mands the jaw of an Old Father William. But David Lewis chews him over with a nice indifference for the bones and bleak of a plastic millennium to come. Alan Clutton-Brock's CEZANNE is an impeccable introduction, and Andrew Forge on VERMEER is full of insight, if his style does lapse into occasional bathos. I did not however get much pleasure from the RAPHAEL the virtues of which were too often hidden by a pontifical olde worlde style and a maze of parenthetic obstructions.

The books on Oriental Art are unique of their kind and must be commended for their charm.