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Nat Tate: American Artist, 1928-1960 [Hardcover]

William Boyd , Karen Wright , Linda Saunders
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 April 1998

The infamous literary prank that fooled a legion of art critics in the 1990s

Artist Nathwell Tate was born in 1928 in Union Beach, New Jersey. On January 8 1960 he contrived to round up and burn almost his entire output of Abstract Expressionism. Four days later he killed himself. This book offers an account of Tate's life and work.


When William Boyd published his biography of New York modern artist Nat Tate, a huge reception of critics and artists arrived for the launch party, hosted by David Bowie, to toast the late artist's life. Little did they know that the painter Nat Tate, a depressive genius who burned almost all his output before his suicide, never existed. The book was a hoax, and the art world had fallen for it.

Nat Tate is a work of art unto itself - an investigation of the blurry line between the invented and the authentic, and a thoughtful tour through the spirited and occasionally ludicrous American art scene of the 1950s.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 71 pages
  • Publisher: 21 Publishing Ltd; First Edition edition (3 April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1901785017
  • ISBN-13: 978-1901785012
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 16.1 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 647,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Boyd is the author of ten novels, including A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award; An Ice-Cream War, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Brazzaville Beach, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Any Human Heart, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet; Restless, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year, the Yorkshire Post Novel of the Year and a Richard & Judy selection, and most recently, the bestselling Ordinary Thunderstorms.

(Photo credit: Eamonn McCabe)

Product Description


'January 8th, it seems, is not only my birthday but also the fateful day when the painter Nat Tate contrived to round up and burn almost his entire output. Four days later he jumped to his death from the Staten Island Ferry, thereby completing the ragged circle of his life's events.

William Boyd's description of Tate's working procedure is so vivid that it convinces me that the small oil I picked on Prince Street, New York, in the late '60s, must indeed be one of the lost Third Panel Triptychs. The great sadness of this quiet and moving monograph is that the artist's most profound dread-that God will make you an artist but only a mediocre artist- did not in retrospect apply to Nat Tate'

(David Bowie)

'A moving account of an artist too well understood by his time' (Gore Vidal) --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Book Description

The infamous literary prank that fooled a legion of art critics in the 1990s --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'One whose name is writ on water' 8 Dec 2010
By technoguy VINE VOICE
This is faux-documentary art faction, a beautifully told little monograph of the Abstract Expressionistic New York scene in the 1950s,by William Boyd.Boyd inserts fictional characters,viz:- Logan Mounstuart and Nat Tate amongst the real movers and shakers of the art and literary worlds.The pieces by Mounstuart would go on to be inserted in the Journal of Logan Monstuart, known as `Any Human Heart',a picaresque novel of the 20th century.The biography of the fictional artist Nat Tate,of the early loss of his father from drowning,of his adoption by the art dealer, Peter Barkasian and his wife,and their fostering of his talent,their payment of a regular stipend.Tate's beauty, his bisexuality.His work is an homage to the poet magus,HartCrane,whose works,The Bridge and White Building,Tate is magnetically drawn to and he depicts in his works.

Crane's suicide jump from a ship,is the bass note template for Tate's end.On the way we are regaled with Kline, O'Hara,de Kooning,Hoffman,Felzer and take in Picasso and Braque.We see the famous Cedar Tavern,drinking hang-out of all would-be artists, practising painters,and art lovers.Cleverly interspersed with photographs of all the real and imaginary protagonists,posing Tate and Mounstuart Zelig-like amongst the proceedings.Reportedly Tate burns 90% of his reclaimed works before disappearing.With beautifully composed typography and layout and the Freudian search for the drowned father a perfect marriage.That this period of art gave rise to such myths and legends,has now given rise to this.Boyd's love of art has evinced this very sincere appreciation,even hoax.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars William Boyd's Diversity 9 Oct 2009
William Boyd loves writing. His recent book, Bamboo, is a very stimulating account of matters that have interested him through his fascinating life. It is NON-FICTION but every bit as readable as his novels and short stories. The book is large yet the chapters are refeshingly short.

Nat Tate, a modernist artist, is yet another departure from his writing 'norm' - a beautiful little book with enormous appeal. It creates for the reader a character who is fictitious but by skillful narrative and real photographs, leads one into a REAL WORLD of the 1950s American Art scene which includes this particular artist, his background, his contacts, acheivements and sad end. Nat Tate is a spoof and the photos are borrowed from anonymous old postcards etc, unbeknown to the reader. But at the time the book was written and launched a party was given in New York where some of the guests said, (or beleived?) that they had met and known Nat Tate. It was a set-up as an experiment. Are novels beleivable? Of course they are. They can be more real than life itself! Nat Tate is a great little book.

It just highlights for me the skill and creativity of the author who revels in the written word and never disappoints.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
In this newly reprinted book from 1998, William Boyd details the life and work of Nat Tate, an artist whose work became highly sought-after in the 1950s. One of the Abstract Expressionists in New York City, Tate could usually be found at his New York studio, at galleries, in conversation with Gore Vidal, Frank O'Hara, or Peggy Guggenheim, or drinking with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and others at the Cedar Tavern. In 1959 he visited Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who became his idol. Every one of his paintings sold almost immediately, most of them before the gallery openings even occurred. Then, unexpectedly, in January, 1960, at age thirty-one, he gathered as many of his works as he could find and incinerated them. At noon, four days later, he had coffee with Frank O'Hara and Todd Heuber, and at five o'clock that day, midway between the Statue of Liberty and the Jersey shore, he jumped off the back of the Staten Island Ferry and committed suicide.

This small book memorializing Nat Tate is William Boyd's homage to this forgotten artist. With the look and feel of a fine art monograph, this tiny book boasts heavy semi-gloss paper, wide margins, understated design, a great deal of white space, and many photographs of Nat Tate from childhood to his death, along with his friends, family, and associates. At a party to celebrate the publication of this memorial to Tate on April 1, 1998, several hundred artists, dealers, writers, and the glitterati of the New York gathered to hear publisher David Bowie read passages from the book. Another party was scheduled for the book's London release a week later. Then word leaked out: Nat Tate never existed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A fribble 3 Jun 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not much of a book but very good photos and it caused a mild furore when WIlliam Boyd passed off a painting he had done as being by Nat Tate. A curiosity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nat Tate on Kindle 8 May 2012
By ed
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Badly let down by appalling typesetting on the Kindle. Why are so many words wrongly hyphenated? I have just turned to a page at random and seen "remem-bered"! I have stopped reading it on the Kindle because the frequent errors are spoiling it for me. I will buy a paperback copy. Does anyone else find Kindle typesetting to be a problem?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging
Really this is a foot note to another novel. But William Boyd is such a good writer that it engaged me
Published 2 months ago by Prof D. Warren-piper
4.0 out of 5 stars "December 4th. Nat Tate came round unannounced last night - not...
There never was an artist called Nat Tate and this book is, therefore, a fabrication, a trick, a joke within a joke, except everyone who knows William Boyd's work is in on the joke... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Eileen Shaw
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovingly concocted
The picture researcher must have had fun with this, a delicious spoof biography destined to live alongside San Serriffe and Panorama's spaghetti harvest. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Simon Barrett
3.0 out of 5 stars Nat Tate: An American Artist
Quite fascinating, well written but very short. So overall rather disappointing. I bought it as an ebook and given the price expected a more substantial book. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mr. B. Conway-smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, clever
Possible spoiler - beware. Boyd's elaborate practical joke (with David Bowie and Gore Vidal playing along) on the art world is a quick, enjoyable read. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Eugene Woods
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleased to get hold of this
I had been trying to order for a while so really pleased to find it available and at a good price.
Published on 13 Jun 2010
3.0 out of 5 stars Nat Tate never existed
Nat Tate is actually a fictitious character, invented by the author for this fictional biography. An interesting read for that reason alone - more interesting could be an analysis... Read more
Published on 19 July 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Another masterpiece,more literary but unmistakeable Boyd
A break from William Boyds usual rollercoaster not knowing whats going to happen next style,yet still a brilliant piece of work. Read more
Published on 5 Feb 2001
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