This is Not Just A Painting Review - A Scholarly Examination Reveals Truths Beneath the Canvas

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This is Not Just a Painting, an Inquiry into Art Domination, Magic and the Sacred from Bernard Lahire and Polity Books, investigates the rediscovery of a national treasure by examining societal truths behind artistic expression.

 

The tome centers on the painting The Flight into Egypt, by the artist Nicolas Poussin thought to be painted in 1657, lost for centuries, rediscovered in the 1980s and debuted in modern society as a rather nondescript insignificant decorative piece. Two decades later, after it was purchased by a Gallery, it was purchased by the Musee des Beaux-de-Arts in Lyon for €17 million.

This is Not Just a Painting examine the journey, tracing the roots from its modern debut through to the sale and then returns to conception. The author, Bernard Lehire, a Professor of Sociology at Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon, explains in the introduction how he was pulled into this "curious tale, which read rather like a detective story with plot twists, cliff-hangers and a cast of colorful characters."


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His is not only a journey of the art as he unravels throughout the book, as elements of society. Presenting a theory that, for this painting and possibly for all works of art, the painting is not just a painting. The work on canvas, from the first brushstroke in the history of artistic creation speaks more about the elements of society, circling and swirling around the artist, then a yearning of artistic expression.

Time, of course, may have changed the theories, blended a belief of a need for expression when essentially  the need is to depict the times, the seasons, the culture, the beat of society.

With book and chapter headings such as The History, domination and social magic explores self-evident facts and foundation of beliefs, domination and social magic, linked oppositions: denominators/dominated and sacred/profane.

The expansion of the domain of the sacred, the emergence of art as an autonomous domain, separate from the profane, Authentication and attribution. Chapter Six introduces the reader to the artist Nicolas Poussin with the Subline Poussin: master of French classicism and the Fabulous destiny of paintings attributed to Nicolas Poussin as well as Poussin, science, law and the art market.

He ends with "How Each Play the Game" which focuses on art historians, gallery owners and museum directors.


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He also recounts in the story of how this painting was sold to a Gallery and discovered after it had hung in the living room of the previous owners home from 1935 to 1985. 

For those not in an academic community or focused solely on artistic theory, the complete examination is somewhat exhausting. Understanding foundations of belief systems, which granted some may not understand why they believe even in the simplest of truths and for others less examples carry the same authority. 


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Lahire applies his understanding of society, and excavations as an archaeologist, corresponding examples which may have shaped the artist in the 17th Century, why he depicted his work in the manner in which he did, asking the investigatory questions, and why currently society acts and responds to stimuli in the way in which they do.

This is not Just a Painting, is clearly an in-depth, well conceptualized, informative, work. Lahire presents his ideas with authority and thoroughly examines the concepts through the intellect of a sociologist. His ideas, of course, are of an elevated intellect, and yet they are easy to understand as he stacks and reduces explanations taking the abstract of the idea tracing it back to its historical roots and then presenting examples addressing the academic community first and then he continues to modernizes the idea until he fits the explanation into and around parameters of a modern society which we suddenly realize we can understand. 


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This is Not Just a Painting, with 545pages separated into three books and nine chapters, is clearly a definitive work. He defends his presented ideas and theories with strength. it is well understood and well referenced.  It is available on Amazon or in other fine book stores.

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