Compton, Susan P.

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Compton, Susan P.


ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Merrell Holbertson, 42 Southwark St., London SE1 1UN, England.

CAREER: Art historian, curator, and author.


The World Backwards: Russian Futurist Books, 1912-16, British Museum Publications (London, England), 1978.

Russian Avant-Garde Books, 1917-34, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1993.


(Editor) Chagall, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1985.

(Editor) British Art in the Twentieth Century: The Modern Movement, Prestel-Verlag (Munich, Germany), 1986.

(With contributions by Richard Cork and Peter Fuller) Henry Moore, Scribner's (New York, NY), 1988.

Marc Chagall: My Life, My Dream: Berlin and Paris, 1922-1940 (originally published in German), Prestel (Munich, German) 1990.

(With others) La epoca heroica: obra gràfica de las vanguardias Rusa y Húngara, 1912-1925: las colecciones Suizas, IVAM, Centre Julio Gonzalez (Valencia, Spain), 1990.

(Editor) Chagall: Love and the Stage 1914-1922, Merrell Holberton (London, England), 1998.

SIDELIGHTS: British art historian Susan P. Compton's particular interest is twentieth-century Russian art. She has written and edited several companion books for exhibitions, as well as books of art history. Compton's Chagall, which complements an exhibition of the Russian artist's staged both in London and Philadelphia, contains approximately 100 color plates that include landscapes, portraits, and self-portraits. Born in Russia, Chagall (1887-1985) also lived in France, Germany, and the United States. In the early 1900s, he lived in Paris, where he was a member of the avant garde. Choice reviewer A. C. Birnholz praised Compton's "excellent text that reflects the best of Chagall." Booklist critic John Brosnahan wrote that Compton's study "forms an extremely thorough chronicle of Chagall's works."

Henry Moore is the companion volume to an exhibit of the sculptor's work held at London's Royal Academy of Arts in 1988. The work of Moore (1898-1986) is well represented by 128 drawings and 111 sculptures and maquettes (models of proposed work). A chronology of the artist's life is also included. While noting the scope of the art presente, Choice contributor J. Howett faulted the volume for the brevity and lack of originality of the three accompanying essays, saying that what is needed is "a deeper, sorely needed new look at Moore's work."

Marc Chagall: My Life, My Dream: Berlin and Paris, 1922-1940, also an exhibition catalog, focuses on a specific time period: the years during which Chagall lived in European cities and learned the etching techniques that garnered him lucrative assignments illustrating books. Included are four sets of etchings Chagall created for his own My Life, Gogol's Dead Souls, La Fontaine's Fables, and the Bible. Illustrations of seventy-nine black-and-white etchings are placed alongside gouaches and paintings, inviting comparison of the mediums. "Clear plates and intelligent text add insight to an often neglected segment of Chagall's oeuvre," commented Joan Levin, reviewing Compton's book in the Library Journal.

Russian Avant-Garde Books, 1917-34 is a sequel to Compton's earlier The World Backwards: Russian Futurist Books, 1912-16. Both books explore the neglected artistic aspects of Russian book production during the first third of the twentieth century. Burlington critic Christina Lodder noted that "this second volume focuses on the later, post-revolutionary period, when the Constructivists sought more generally to extend their artistic activities into industrial production and the wider environment." Noting that Compton's book in "more varied in style and function than that of earlier Futurist books," Loder added that Russian Avant-Garde Books, 1917-34 "is an ingenious way of dealing with a diverse body of material, and provides a general cultural context for the work in question."

In her book Compton explains that many cutting-edge Russian artists, including Chagall, El Lissitzky, and Alexander Rodchenko, designed book art with an explosion of creativity. She also describes the works of Russian futurists, including Aleksai Kruchenykh and Vladimir Mayakovsky, whose book designs were inventive and unconventional. The designs of the 1920s were the most inventive, but in December of 1928, the Communist Party declared that writings must be of a socially useful nature. Writers then visited construction sites and documented the labor that was being expended, often on useless projects. Compton writes about the harsh censorship of both the content and appearance of such publications following the first Congress of Soviet Writers and their 1934 position on socialist realism as dogma. Artists such as Lissitzky and Rodchenko continued to work, particularly for periodicals created for foreign markets, but they too eventually conformed.

Library Journal's Mary F. Zirin noted that the illustrations in Russian Avant-Garde Books, 1917-34 "serve as a delightful reminder of the rich heritage the new Russia can now choose to utilize." As Maurice Fried-berg wrote in Library Quarterly: "Meticulously researched, gracefully written, and profusely illustrated, Susan Compton's book is a major contribution to the history of twentieth-century Russian art, as well as literature, publishing, and cultural politics."



Booklist, July, 1985, John Brosnahan, review of Chagall, p. 1496.

Burlington, December, 1988, Lynne Cooke, review of Henry Moore, p. 945; November, 1994, Christina Lodder, review of Russian Avant-Garde Books, 1917-34, pp. 777-778.

Choice, November, 1985, A. C. Birnholz, review of Chagall, p. 434; April, 1989, J. Howett, review of Henry Moore, p. 1317; January, 1991, G. Eager, review of Marc Chagall: My Life, My Dream: Berlin and Paris, 1922-1940, p. 767.

Library Journal, June 1, 1985, Hara L. Seltzer, review of Chagall, p. 118; November 15, 1990, Joan Levin, review of Marc Chagall, p. 68; January, 1993, Mary F. Zirin, review of Russian Avant-Garde Books, 1917-34, p. 113.

Library Quarterly, January, 1994, Maurice Friedberg, review of Russian Avant-Garde Books, 1917-34, pp. 90-91.

London Review of Books, March 19, 1987, Nicholas Penny, review of British Art in the Twentieth Century: The Modern Movement, p. 3.

Times Literary Supplement, July 31, 1998, Gabriel Josipovici, review of Chagall, p. 16.

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Compton, Susan P.

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