The philosophies that motivated the 20th century's key artists give meaning to their work, says Betty Tadman
The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them." In a single sentence, an entire aesthetic, and a very neat way of expressing what it was that made Mark Rothko - a poor boy from Lithuania who achieved huge fame before he committed suicide - so powerful a painter. Rachel Barnes's deft analysis of what motivated this and other Abstract Expressionists will leave young readers both enlightened and enthused.
Indeed, these are clever books, full of fascinating did-you-knows, whose format is both clear and informative. First a definition - "What is Abstract Expressionism?" - in which this will-of-the-wisp movement is nailed down in terms of its leading figures, their philosophy, and the political and economic context in which they worked. Then a series of potted biographies, with each luminary profiled in turn. Then a section indicating who their artistic successors were. Finally, a timeline, a glossary and a resources section.
Given the fissiparousness of her territory, it's no surprise that Linda Bolton's Post-Impressionists gets bogged down in the competing isms in Paris around the start the 20th century, but Jeremy Wallis's group portrait of the Cubists is a model of lucidity. All these books score top marks for the choice and reproduction of their illustrations.