Frances Lincoln Ltd £18.99

Great Works: 50 Paintings Explored, By Tom Lubbock

With rare clarity of vision and expression, Lubbock explored important artworks for our sister title. His favourites are here revisited, in one book

For five years, from 2005 to 2010, Tom Lubbock wrote a weekly essay for The Independent on a single work of art, usually a painting.

That sounds so easy. Take a picture – something, for preference, that you hate or love – raid your bookshelves for historical reference and tell the reader, in 950 words, why he or she should love or hate it, too. If that is what Lubbock had done, it would have been money for old rope. It wasn't.

Perhaps "essay" is not the right word for the 50 articles reprinted in Great Works, Lubbock's own selection, made shortly before he died in January, from the more than 200 he wrote under that title. Essays sound like lectures, delivered de haut en bas. The Great Works pieces are full of learning, but imparting it isn't really their point.

Like Lubbock's views on art, they defy easy categorisation. "Monologues" may come closer to describing them, although that makes these pieces sound egotistical, which they most certainly are not. On the contrary, you often sense a frustration in Lubbock that his is the only voice allowed: "Come on," you hear him saying, "what do you think?". As befits their subject, the great works are oddly visual. I cannot read them without picturing the room in which their dialogue takes place: comfortable, a bit battered, filled, from time to time, with Lubbock's explosive guffaws; his jabbed forefinger emphasising a triumphant "Exactly!".

His writing is exact, although the Great Works pieces wear their exactness lightly. Before he was an art critic, Lubbock was a philosopher; there is none of that journalist's itch here to put the story in the first paragraph. His line on Juan Sánchez-Cotán's Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber starts with a theatrical anecdote about Tallulah Bankhead and passes, amiably, on to Pascal. Lubbock's discussion of Giotto's Vices (above) opens with a poem by Bertolt Brecht and cites Byron, Goethe, Dante and Simone Weil before arriving at the Scrovegni Chapel, 500 words in.

Once we get there, you understand the need for the diversion. It, too, was pictorial. As if circling a sculpture or building, we have circled Giotto's frescos; now we're ready to stand in front of them, Lubbock by our side. His approach is convivial. There is no art-argot or critical theory, but neither is there the patronising blimey-talk of a TV pundit. (Lubbock, I think, would not have done well on television; his genius lay in writing pictures into words.) He points out the sculptural solidity of Giotto's Virtues and Vices, their "physical fortitude, imbued by their stone nature".

It is Anger that catches his eye and so draws ours, the way she tears her dress "into an outlined rectangular void over her heart". "At first you don't see the shape," Lubbock says, meaning, at first, I didn't see the shape. We look as equals, not as master and student. And then there is the Lubbock moment, the one where the work comes down off the wall and is made human, a thing painted by men for men to see, to read and feel. "Her face smarts from the harm her feelings are doing," he says. "She is tearing herself apart." Art was real for Tom Lubbock; there was, for him, no separation between passion and reason. That alone makes this book a great work.

To order any of these books at a reduced price, including free UK p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 0843 0600 030 or visit independentbooksdirect.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis