Rembrandt's Eyes (Simon Schama, 1999):
A complex biography (about the size of a phone book) of Rembrandt, with excellent reproductions. Be sure to see pages 298/299, which are a collection of self-portraits of Rembrandt making faces at the viewer. The first 200 pages consist of a terrific biography of Rubens, who was the godfather to Rembrandt's generation. This book will open your eyes to the power of Rembrandt and Rubens like few other books.

N.C. Wyeth (David Michaelis, 1999):
A fascinating and tragic biography of America's foremost illustrator. Wyeth was an eccentric man-child in knickers, whose classic book illustrations to Treasure Island and Robin Hood are unforgettable. His wild and wacky family included later famous artists Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth.

Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life (Richard Meryman, 1996):

Another extraordinary book on the Wyeth family which picks up the history where Michaelis’s above biography on N.C. Wyeth stopped.  Here the author delves deep into the subject matter, models, and method of Andrew Wyeth’s art, well-illustrated.  The information is so detailed and personal that the book sometimes appears to blur the lines between fact and hyperbole, but still makes for a great read.

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix (Phaidon Publishers, 1995):
Delacroix was one of the great intellects of art, as well as a fantastic painter and draftsman. The journal captures the intense energy and depth of Delacroix's mind. I can picture Delacroix  walking the streets of Paris with his best friend Chopin, discussing art and music.

Wayne Thiebaud: A Painting Retrospective
(Steven Nash and Adam Gopnik, 2000):
This exhibition catalog accompanied a career retrospective that visited the San Francisco Legion of Honor Museum a few years ago. I admit I never read the text, but I really enjoy looking at these rich, entertaining paintings, from the abstracted street scenes of San Francisco to the Sacramento Delta landscapes which perfectly capture the spirits of those places. Nobody ever painted more delicious cakes and pies than Thiebaud.

Pierre Bonnard: Early and Late (Elizabeth Turner, 2002):
Another exhibition catalog to a blockbuster exhibit. I can't recall many exhibits I enjoyed more than this one. Bonnard's rich use of color and imagery make the paintings look like they are vibrating on the museum walls. His odd waif of a wife appears in many of the paintings. Bonnard's portraits of himself as a frail old man at the end of his life rival the power of Rembrandt's self-portraits.

The Art Spirit (Robert Henri, 1923):
A compilation of Henri's comments on the theory and practice of art. Henri is often regarded as America's foremost art teacher, who mentored such artists as Edward Hopper and George Bellows.  I can open to almost any page of this opinionated book, and find some intriguing and provoking thought. This book is meant to be read in small bits and savored over time. 

Robert Henri’s California (Laguna Art Museum, 2014):
Great collection of Henri’s vivid and colorful portraits, with interesting text.  Henri is overlooked today as an artist, but he was a terrific portrait and plein air cityscape painter.  His portraits of children are some of the best in art history.

Impressionist Still Life (Eliza Rathbone and George Shackelford, 2001):
This lavish exhibit catalog is a broad survey of the history of the still life from the 1700's to the early 20th century, with many high quality color illustrations. The catalog includes several excellent essays on Chardin, Manet, Cezanne, and others. It also contains many interesting mini-discussions of small groups of 2 or 3 paintings, which elevates this catalog beyond many others.

The Revenge of Thomas Eakins (Sidney Kirkpatrick, 2006):
A great biography of America's foremost portrait/figure painter. Eakins was maligned in his own time for his controversial use of nude models and personal life, but Kirkpatrick sets the record straight about the artist's troubles, and provides a fascinating picture of Eakins' world.  The author delves into the psychology and intent behind Eakins' uncompromising “warts and all” portraits, which frequently offended his sitters. The only downside of this book is its small, murky illustrations, so you may want to look elsewhere for better illustrations.

The Unknown Night-The Genius and Madness of R.A. Blakelock—An American Painter (Glyn Vincent, 2003):
Genius or madman?  This biography creates a rich picture of the dark world of Ralph Blakelock, whose moody moonlit landscapes made him one of the most famous, high-paid painters in late 19th century America.  Blakelock spent the last years of his life in an asylum painting on cigar box lids.  You may want to find another book for better reproductions.

Impressionism: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890 (Richard Brettell, 2000):

This great exhibit catalog convincingly shows how the Impressionists carefully composed and reworked their paintings to create an impression of freshness and immediacy.  The author knows his stuff, and focuses on the major Impressionists Manet, Monet, Renoir, Morisot, and Sisley, with many interesting cross-comparisons of artists.  Incidentally, Brettell did an excellent series of video lectures (From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism, The Teaching Company), which dovetails much of the information in this book. 

American Impressionist Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals
(Austen Bailly, 2016):
This detailed exhibit catalog collects Hassam’s vivid paintings of the stark, rocky shorelines of Appledore Island off the New England coast.  High quality reproductions of this electric body of work.

The Cave Painters (Gregory Curtis, 2006):

Very interesting read about the discovery and assorted interpretations of prehistoric cave paintings found in France.  These mysterious paintings still speak to us 30,000 years later. 

Eye of the Beholder—Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing (Laura Snyder, 2015):

Intriguing story of the parallel lives of the painter Vermeer and  pioneer microscopist van Leeuwenhoek in 17th century Holland.  This excellent, well-researched book explores and explains the various lenses, camera obscuras, glasses, mirrors, and other optical devices used by artists and scientists at that time, and the lively communications between these people. 

Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist (Gail Levin, 1980):
Great overview of Hopper.  First, Levin pens a concise, intelligent analysis of Hopper’s life and art.  Second, this exhibit catalog contains several hundred glossy, high quality reproductions of Hopper’s work, which you will want to view repeatedly.  Levin really knows her stuff, and has written several other books on Hopper, including a gossipy biography (Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, 2007) and a book that matches Hopper’s landscape paintings with photos of the actual sites (Hopper’s Places, 1985). 

Vermeer—A View of Delft (Anthony Bailey, 2001):
This excellent biography pieces together the puzzle of Vermeer’s life and art in 17th century Holland.  Only 35 or so of his complex, luminous paintings exist today, while Vermeer mysteriously utilized the same models, objects, and settings in many of them.  We know few hard facts about Vermeer, nor how or why he created his art, but today he is regarded as one of the great painters in art history. 

The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner (Franny Moyle, 2016):
Sympathetic biography of the ambitious, hard-nosed, complex Mr. Turner.  Over two centuries later, Turner remains the greatest British landscape painter, with his shimmering masses of colors, shapes, and atmospheric effects.  The only downside of this interesting book is the skimpy number and quality of reproductions.

The Power of Art (Simon Schama, 2006):
Love him or hate him, Schama is always brash, opinionated, a great writer and speaker on art, and never dull.  This book examines the tumultuous lives and the crises and challenges faced by 8 artists as they created their masterworks (Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Rothko).  Excellent quality reproductions.  This book accompanies an entertaining television series/dvd set on the same subject, which mixes actors and documentary material with Schama’s acerbic narration.

E. Charlton Fortune—The Colorful Spirit (Scott Shields, 2017):
I have always regarded Fortune as one of the best American landscape painters of her era, ever since I first saw her work years ago at the Oakland Art Museum.  This large exhibit catalog accompanied a wide retrospective of her art that recently visited the Crocker Museum in Sacramento.  Fortune led an interesting life, and her vibrant landscape paintings of California (particularly Monterey Bay) and France are bold, colorful, and high energy.  This catalog is a good read and contains many high-quality reproductions of her art.

Depths of Glory (Irving Stone, 1985):
Stone wrote a trio of terrific historical novels/biographies of artists, including Lust for Life (Van Gogh), The Agony and the Ecstasy (Michelangelo), and this one about Camille Pissarro and the French impressionists.  Stone created a rich, detailed picture of Pissarro, his art, family, struggle with poverty, and search for critical acceptance--Pissarro crisscrossed paths with many other artists and historical events. Good read for a long plane flight. 

Berthe Morisot (Anne Higonnet, 1990):
Taut, intelligent biography of Morisot, perhaps the most underrated and enigmatic member of the impressionists.  Higonnet sensitively examines and documents the complexities of Morisot and her place as a woman artist in 19th century France. Morisot’s relationship with Edouard Manet, including his numerous vibrant portraits of her, is fascinating.  All of the reproductions are unfortunately black and white.


Green Hair (Oil, 18x14)

Clowns (Oil, 18x24)

Leaning Man (Oil, 18x14)

Copyright @ Robert Gonsowski. All rights reserved.

Shaded Levee (Oil, 18x24)

Shoreline (Oil, 18x36)

Coy Woman (Oil, 18x14)

Robert Gonsowski Art


If you enjoy visiting museums, looking at art or reading about art, here are some personal favorites to explore.


Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, CA:
Someone once said that the new Getty Museum is the Los Angelese museum with the great building and the average collection, while the Norton Simon is the museum with the great collection and the average building. Norton Simon has a fantastic selection of 19th century of French art, with one of the best Degas collections in the country.  Don't miss the haunting self-portrait of a middle-aged Rembrandt, which still seems alive after 400 years, and a sensuous Watteau painting of a young woman. The museum is also 15 minutes from the Huntington Museum, with its stunning gardens, British art collection, and rare books library.

Toledo Art Museum, Toledo, OH:
What the Toledo Museum may lack in quantity, it makes up in quality. This museum is filled with many fabulous, seminal paintings, including Bonnard's mythological "Abduction of Europa," Bellows´ "The Bridge," Cole´s "Architect's Dream," Van Gogh's "Wheat Field," and some superb classical Greek vase paintings.  Great café too.  While in the area, you can also make the grand tour of nearby major museums, including the Detroit Art Institute, Cleveland Art Museum, and Chicago Art Institute.

Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.:
Housed in an old mansion, this museum has a visionary quality  centered around a great collection of Bonnard's paintings, which are my favorite paintings there. The collection also includes many fabulous American paintings, including Thomas Eakins' portraits and Albert Pinkham Ryder's moonlit landscapes.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.:
The National Gallery has a vast, high quality collection, which will take you at least 2 days to cover comfortably. Don't miss a rare chance to see 4 jewel-like Vermeer paintings (only a handful of Vermeers exist). There is also an exceptional collection of Manet paintings, and a special gallery recently opened for "small paintings" that features many intimate 19th century French still lifes and plein air landscapes.

Rodin Museum, Paris:
In many ways, this museum offers the most complete museum package in Paris: a beautiful old mansion with open windows, extensive gardens, powerful Rodin sculptures inside the museum and throughout the gardens, a special gallery of Rodin´s drawings and watercolors, and a good outdoor cafè. You can spend a lot of time loitering here.

Musee D'Orsay, Paris:
One of the best museums in the world, the building is a gargantuan old train station with a giant wall clock which houses an incredible collection of 19th century French art, with entire rooms devoted to individual artists like Manet, Gauguin, and Cezanne. The Degas pastel room is a religious experience, but go to view it as soon as the museum doors open to avoid the crowds. Good restaurants inside the museum too.

Irvine Museum, Irvine, CA:
The Irvine is a labor of love devoted to California impressionist art; it has amassed a large collection of paintings by interesting artists like William Wendt, Edgar Payne, and Guy Rose, whose work is not often seen in other museums. This museum housed in an office building does not display a permanent collection, but instead shows carefully chosen rotating exhibits, and organizes traveling exhibits around the country. The Irvine has a small bookstore stocked with singular books, catalogs, and dvd´s featuring California impressionism.

Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI:
Another Midwest gem of a museum.  The expanded DIA houses a large and unique collection (too much to see in one day).  The museum centerpiece is an enormous Diego Rivera mural, "Detroit Industry," commissioned by Ford in the 1930's, which fills an entire 2-3 story hall with a surreal collage of machinery, workers, and earth mothers.  Other renowned works include Bruegel's "Wedding Dance," showing a crowd of carousing peasants; Sargent's "Mosquito Nets," Fuseli's "Nightmare," and Copley’s “Head of a Negro,” which was painted over 200 years ago but looks like it was painted yesterday.  The DIA has an entire gallery devoted to 19th-century American landscapes in a fascinating display of large, high-end landscapes (Cole, Bierstadt, et al.) surrounded by clusters of small plein air landscapes by these same artists. The DIA also has at least a half-dozen excellent cafes and restaurants inside the museum.