Masterpieces of Etching, selected by Laurence Binyon; Gowans & Gray Ltd., London – Glasgow (1914). I’ve lauded the large, but the smallness of small books is praiseworthy too. While not the littlest volume in our library, this one is a near-miniature. Why anyone would produce an art book on such a scale is a good question. The images are only a few inches tall. Still, there are some lovely pictures.
Take, for example, the etching on the right by Wenceslaus Hollar, a Bohemian artist and illustrator who lived in London before and after the English Civil War. It reads: “The Winter habit of an English gentlewoman.” The oversized muff consuming her left arm and the mask over her eyes I find strange and strangely appealing. I imagine Samuel Pepys stepping over beggars in the lane to make her acquaintance. Hollar was so poor at the end that he supposedly had to plead with creditors not to seize his deathbed before he was finished with it.
Here are two portraits by Anthony Van Dyck, after whom the famous style of goatee is named. “Van Noort” is on the left, and that’s “Vorsterman” leering at him from the right. All the men in Van Dyck’s portraits wear Van Dykes, which, if it was really so common, makes you wonder why the style was named after him alone. But maybe it wasn’t popular at all and Van Dyck only added it to his portraits the way a ten-year-old draws moustaches on the faces of people in magazine advertisements.
Here is a man in need of no introduction: Charles Mingus! …Thanks to his generous narcissism, Rembrandt left us with an awful lot of self-portraits. He looks something between Socrates and Falstaff, I think (plus a little Mingus). But if I had a mug like his and could paint like he did, posterity might find itself with a surplus of my self-portraits too.