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A Crisis of Brilliance Hardcover – 13 Nov 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Old Street Publishing; 1st Edition edition (13 Nov. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 190584784X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905847846
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 3.3 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 626,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'Haycock's narrative of this entangled, war-defined group is so strong that it often has the force of a novel, hard to put down . . . We should call for a joint exhibition of [their] work, to complement the moving portrayal of their lives in this engrossing and enjoyable book.'
Guardian BOOK OF THE WEEK

'A lucid study of the lives behind the art . . . What gives Haycock's book its freshness is that, through skilful use of letters and memoirs left by his five subjects, he injects it with the anxiety, ambition, self-doubt and jealousy that possessors of youth and talent are fated to feel'
John Carey, Sunday Times

'What a fascinatingly tangled mess of human lives! Haycock tells the whole story engagingly and unpretentiously: the human conflicts, the clashes of ideas, and the terrible disruptions of war beneath it all.'
Independent

'A sad tale, wonderfully told… [Haycock] fades the many different narratives in and out with ease'
Country Life

'Boyd Haycock sets the story of Nash, Spencer, Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler and Richard Nevinson against the backdrop of Britain before and during the war, and he delineates it all with real vigour. Recommended.'
Herald

'Haycock manages the drama in this tale with such skill that his story unfolds like a well-plotted novel… Formidably well-informed… Never before have the private vicissitudes in these artists' lives been made so real or their exuberance so vivid.'
Daily Mail

'There is something endlessly appealing about a group of artists behaving badly while simultaneously creating their best work...Depression, doubt, love triangles and the horrors of war all conspire against their ambitions, causing their fortunes to diverge wildly... [Haycock's] research provides rich context, with personal letters supplying detail to every squabble or concern'
Metro

'A vintage decade of early twentieth century British art, told in vivid and entertaining detail through the adventures of five highly gifted young painters ... I greatly enjoyed it'
Sir Michael Holroyd

'Truly fascinating from every angle - almost a work of art in itself'
Books Quarterly

'An extraordinary book. I read it avidly ... The familiar cast is handled in a quite new and original way. They have been made fresh and vulnerable once more, and their work re-evaluated, made new to us'
Ronald Blythe

'Haycock's narrative teems with colourful characters and dramatic detail.'
Simon May --*


Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A Crisis of Brilliance is a group biography of five outstandingly talented young artists whose lives intertwine in the period leading up to the First World War. The achievement of this biography is that it manages to keep each of their individual stories going, while never losing sight of the wider context - the Slade, artistic movements, the build-up to the War and contemporary social and sexual mores. The author has clearly done a huge amount of research but this book never feels heavy going - on the contrary, you can almost believe Haycock was there himself, witnessing events firsthand and describing what he saw with insight and sympathy. For me, Stanley Spencer was the character who came most vividly alive, though all are deftly captured. I have always been fascinated by this period, and by the young lives that were so distorted and damaged by the First World War, but A Crisis of Brilliance has given me a new layer of understanding. A wonderful read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A Crisis of Brilliance is a lovely book. The lives of five artists who were all at the Slade together are interleaved against a background of the social norms of a time long lost. A time which was swallowed up by the First World War and all its horrors. Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash and Richard Nevinson come from diverse backgrounds. They are all obsessive talented artists whose lives are intertwined whilst struggling in the whirlpool of their times. David Boyd Haycock evokes with learned brilliance the historical backgroung against which these vulnerable artists live their dramatic and tempestuous lives. Mark Gertler, probably the most talented, was obsessed with Dora Carrington who went on to love Lytton Strachey, yet married another only to commit suicide after Strachey's death. Stanley Spencer is obsessed with his village of Cookham only to be dragged away to war. Paul Nash and Richard Nevinson become war artists and then are faced with the crisis in 1919 of what a war artist without a war should do. For all of them their careers and talents developed in different ways. Surprisingly, shy, introvert Stanley Spencer became the greatest achiever of them all, being knighted in 1959 shortly before his death from cancer on 14th December.
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Format: Hardcover
Although I studied Art History at A level over twenty years ago, I have read very little on the subject since. Given to me by a friend, A Crisis of Brilliance has re-sparked that old interest. This is testimony largely to Haycock's approach. The book is no fictionalised biography, but it reads almost as entertainingly. We follow five Slade artists through their most formative years, all their lives to some greater or lesser degree intertwined; but, as if the drama of their relationships and ambitions wasn't enough, this is played out against the backdrop of WWI. Haycock contextualises the drama wonderfully, vividly conveying a sense of the period out of the personal.

My one criticism is that I wanted to see more of the paintings written about. That said, since a sad scarcity of them in the book itself has got me planning a visit to The Imperial War Museum, I don't suppose that should be considered too great a failing!

20th century English artists weren't on the A level syllabus when I studied; if they are now - in fact, even if they're not! - then this is just the kind of book to draw students into the subject. It reads like a superior soap opera. Brilliant.
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By Stegwych VINE VOICE on 22 Nov. 2009
Format: Hardcover
A CRISIS OF BRILLIANCE is one of the best biographies I've read. Haycock not only succeeds in bringing to life five fascinating and important painters at a time in their lives before they had achieved success or 'found themselves' artistically, he also illuminates, in elegant and accessible prose, a whole period and milieu - the years just before and during the Great War. We are first introduced to each artist individually, before their lives come together at the Slade School of Art in London, where they were all students under the famous drawing master Henry Tonks. The book divides roughly into two halves, with the first taking place before the war, and dealing with how the artists' friendships and relationships helped to form them as painters; in the second, Haycock traces the effect of the war on them and their art. Like all the best biographies, it manages to transcend its subject, telling a universal story about the artist's search for identity, and the struggle to find an adequate response to the great upheavals and traumas of his or her time: some of the most interesting and moving passages concern the very different personal and aesthetic reactions of the five artists to the war. Very highly recommended, and perhaps not just to those already interested in these particular artists.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't wish to rebut the other comments about this book - it was due to them that I bought it. However, the book's focus is entirely on the lives of the artists to the exclusion of discussing their works adequately. Yes, these people did lead colourful lives but it would be helpful to unpick and explain some of their works (Stanley S and Mark G really deserve better). Realistically, this book is closer to journalism than art history. Do read it - its a terrific, gossipy book - although don't expect insights into the works of art.
(The author's short introductory book Paul Nash is a must if you wish to learn more of this fascinating artist's work.)
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