Hiroshige: One Hundred Views of Edo (Taschen, $150), edited by Melanie Trede and Lorenz Bichler, is presented with a satin covered “book case” and Japanese-bound with nylon twine. Working in the tradition of ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” developed by Japanese artists of the 17th century, Hiroshige (1797-1858), perhaps the most famous of ukiyo-e woodblock printers, produced these vibrant scenes of his home city, Edo (later Tokyo), late in life. This great artist’s final masterpiece is reproduced here from a complete original set of woodprints belonging to the Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo. Each full-color, large-format picture is accompanied with commentary that details the artist’s techniques of execution and composition, along with the historical importance of the print itself.
We don’t have to tell Politics and Prose customers that politics touches everything, but I previously knew little about the culture wars raging between museums and various nations. Now we have several books on this issue. Loot (Times Books, $30), by Sharon Waxman, is an entertaining account of tensions between the old imperial nations and the countries that were once “looted” for their treasures. Meet Zahi Hawass, the flamboyant secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, who’s at war with the Louvre to recover treasures Napoleon carried home with him more than two centuries ago. It’s a new headache for Western museum directors, like Alain Pasquier, chief conservator of Greco-Roman antiquities at the Louvre. But it’s not just Europe under pressure; Turkey is trying to repatriate tombs and precious objects sold to the Met relatively recently.
(This book cannot be returned.)
Is there a difference between grabbing “the loot” as part of an imperial expedition and buying it in great quantities as the Americans did? The subtitle of Cynthia Saltzman’s Old Masters, New World (Viking, $27.95) is America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures. Saltzman describes how the nouveau riche Americans (and they were very rich, many from extractive industries in the U.S.) sought out paintings in England, France, and Italy to add to their collections. “The legacy of America’s Gilded Age buying binge stretches across the country…but the beauty of the museum galleries reveals little of the rough and tumble involved in the …pursuit of pictures.” Henry Clay Frick, of course, Mrs. Gardner of Boston, the Havemeyers, whose collection adorns the Metropolitan, and J. Pierpont Morgan, with even more money, were bidding up the prices of the old masters and carting them off to the New World. This sparkling book is a must for all American museum-lovers.