12 APRIL 1935, Page 38


Mr. Wilenski has just produced a new, cheaper and entirely

revised edition of his one important contribution to criticism, The Modern Movement in Art (Faber, 8s. 6d.). In this book the author's passion for the sub-division of every subject into a series of watertight compartments helps to bring order into the mass of material which the history of modern painting presents. He also deserves credit for having avoided the entirely subjective approach which has vitiated much ecent criticism of the more advanced kind. Instead of taking as the criterion of a painting the particular kind of thrill which it gives to him personally, he attempts to find out what the artists under discussion were aiming at, and then to estimate how far they succeeded in achieving their aim and how far this aim was worth achieving. One of Mr. Wilenski's main theses is that the modern movement from Cezanne to Picasso_ has developed entirely in accordance with the principles of the best European painting since the Renais- sance. This is in general true, but it involves one proposition which could at any rate be challenged. The production of all original works of art involves at one stage the enlarge- ment on the part of the artist of some new experience. In the case Of the modern •" arehitectural" painters, Mr. Wilenski maintains, probably rightly, that this original experience was a formal experience. He goes on to maintain that this applies also to all the great " architectural " painters since the Renaissance, particularly to Poussin and. Raphael. With Raphael the question is difficult, but in the case of Poussin it is fairly clear that the original experience was not purely formal but, according to his own definition, about some human action. Poussin is a great " architectural " artist in spite of this, because he expressed his original experience in a splendid design, and it may be that some contemporary artists find themselves in a blind alley because they are so determined to begin with nothing but formal experiences that they cut themselves off from many stimuli which might lead to great works of art. However, there are signs that this situation is improving.