PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
'His book has nothing to recommend it , moreover he disparages anyone who has acquired a reputation, and his aphorisms are far too Naturalistic.
For Huysmans, the only true artists are the Impressionists, the Naturalists, and the Independents, with their cult of splotches and their skill in reproducing the ugly in its modern form. This new conception of art leaves us absolutely cold, and we mention M. Huysmans' book simply as a curiosity.
And this avant-garde work, which has a whiff of gunpowder about it, is also full of fine and sensible reflections about Impressionism and the leading painters of that school, among which one could certainly point out a masterly criticism of Edouard Manet's paintings.
‘Few late nineteenth-century art critics were more clearly on the right side of history than the early J.-K. Huysmans. For to read his essay on the ‘Exhibition of the Independents in 1880’ is to discover in retrospect an anticipation of the twentieth century’s aesthetic preferences. In privileging Degas over Manet, Huysmans was already distancing himself from his Naturalist maitre, Zola. That journey was to be completed the following year with the publication of his most famous work, Against Nature, which also marks an art-historical shift in the Symbolist direction of Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon, and away from the quest for modern life embodied in his accounts of Impressionists refuses in 1880, 1881 and 1882. These essays stand in contradistinction to the vitriol he pours on the official Salons of 1879, 1880,1881 and 1882… King displays both considerable knowledge and easy humour in the tone of his introduction. His detailed notes and glossary of artists are useful, but particularly appealing to the reader will be the inclusion, in the main body of the text, of small black-and-white illustrations for a number of paintings referred to, some taken from the original Salon catalogues.’
Huysmans reviewed the Salons of 1879-82 and the Independent Exhibitions of 1880-82 at considerable length. His articles, collected as L’Art moderne (1883), have never before been translated into English, probably because he is the least known of the writer-critics, and his French is often not straightforward. Robert Baldick, biographer of Huysmans (1955) described his style as ‘one of the strangest literary idioms in existence’. Brendan King, who has already translated most of Huysmans’s fiction, has produced an excellent version. Rarely can it have been such fun to read translated denunciations of so many forgotten French pictures. The edition also includes scores of small black and white illustrations, which can easily be Googled into colour.
'What a joy this was to read, a superbly translated volume, with excellent footnotes and small inserts of the artwork studied. Am really surprised this hasn’t won any awards and Dedalus is a publisher that always rewards you with these gems of translation.'
Huysmans’s Modern Art, which first appeared in 1883, was recently released in a snappy English translation by Brendan King, with copious notes and a glossary on the over-200 painters covered by the critic.