Weber, Nicholas F. 1947- (Nicholas Fox Weber)

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Weber, Nicholas F. 1947- (Nicholas Fox Weber)

PERSONAL:

Born December 9, 1947, in Hartford, CT; son of Saul (a president of a printing company) and Caroline (an artist) Weber; married Katharine Swift Kaufman (a writer), September 19, 1976; children: Lucy Swift, Charlotte Fox. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1969; Yale University, M.A., 1971.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Bethany, CT. Office—Josef Albers Foundation, 808 Birchwood Dr., Orange, CT 06477.

CAREER:

Foxcharts, Inc., Hartford, CT, president, 1971-76; Josef Albers Foundation, Orange, CT, executive director, 1976—. Lecturer at Trinity College, Hartford, CT, 1973, 1974; guest lecturer at New School for Social Research, Wadsworth Atheneum, Detroit Art Institute, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Stanford University, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Hirshhorn Museum, University of Copenhagen, Goethe House, Tate Gallery, University of Quebec, and Yale University. Director of art exhibitions at Oliver Wolcott Library, Litchfield, CT, 1972-74. Member of board of directors of Hartford Ballet Company; member of board of trustees and vice president of Hartford Art School; chairman of Yale New Haven Hospital Art Collection; executive director of Josef Albers Stifung, Germany, 1983—. Guest curator of Leland Ball Exhibition at Phillips Collections in Washington, DC, 1987, and guest curator at Josef Albers Retrospective Exhibition at Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 1988.

MEMBER:

Racing Club of Paris, Circle Interalliée, Arigdeiu Lawn Vale Association, Century Association, Yale Club of New York, New Haven Lawn Club.

WRITINGS:

Irving Katzenstein, Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, CT), 1972.

(With Deedee Wigmore) William Horton, American Impressionist, Knoedler (New York, NY), 1973.

American Painters of the Impressionist Period Rediscovered, Colby College Press (Waterville, ME), 1975.

The Drawings of Josef Albers, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1984.

(With Mary Jane Jacob and Richard Field) The Woven and Graphic Art of Anni Albers (exhibition catalog), Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1985.

Leland Bell, Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 1986.

(With Jed Perl) Louisa Matthiasdottir: The Small Paintings, Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Josef Albers: A Retrospective (exhibition catalog), Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (New York, NY), 1988.

Warren Brandt (criticism and interpretation), Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 1988.

The Art of Babar: The Work of Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff, Abrams (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Eliza E. Rathbone and John Richardson) Nicolas D. Staël in America (exhibition catalog), Phillips Collection (Washington, DC), 1990.

Patron Saints: Five Rebels Who Opened America to a New Art, 1928-1943, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.

Yale Collects Yale (exhibition catalog), edited by Sasha M. Newman and Lesley Baier, Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT), 1993.

Cleve Gray (criticism and interpretation), Abrams (New York, NY), 1998.

Balthus: A Biography, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.

(With others) Anni Albers (exhibition catalog), Abrams (New York, NY), 1999.

(With others) Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living, Merrill (New York, NY), 2004.

The Clarks of Cooperstown: Their Singer Sewing Machine Fortune, Their Great and Influential Art Collections, Their Forty-year Feud, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

Author of forewords for Anni Albers: Selected Writings on Design, edited by Brenda Danilowitz, University Press of New England (Lebanon, NH), 2001; and The Prints of Josef Albers: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1915-1976, edited by Brenda Danilowitz, Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 2002. Columnist for Manhattan East, 1966-67. Contributor to art journals and other periodicals, including House and Garden and New York Times Magazine.

SIDELIGHTS:

Art historian Nicholas F. Weber once told CA: "I have a particular interest in contemporary painting that does not reflect current trends but reveals a true interest in artistic quality of a timeless nature. The artists I admire most are distinguished by both the beauty of their work and their ferocious independence. In my writing about them, I try to enhance the reader's pleasure in the artwork and to portray aspects of the artists' personalities that may give insight or further our understanding of the paintings under discussion."

The pleasure Weber takes in the work of the father-and-son creators of the popular children's books featuring Babar the elephant king is evident in The Art of Babar: The Work of Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff. In 1931, author and illustrator Jean de Brunhoff started the series, about an orphaned elephant who is taken in by a big-city society woman, becomes civilized and cultured, and returns to his native jungle to become king, ruling from Celestville, named for his queen, Celeste. Jean de Brunhoff died in 1937, after completing seven "Babar" books, but his son Laurent revived the series in 1946 and produced more than thirty volumes, updating the characters and settings slightly to reflect the changing times while maintaining the books' timeless appeal. "Weber successfully takes the Babar story from the Roaring '20s to the Postmodern '80s, and shows us how, at every point, the books turn contemporary style into picture-book idyll," Jed Perl reported in the New Republic. "He makes us understand why Babar makes adults happy, too. These books present a complicated world in clarified form." Weber's work, Perl added, "answers all the questions readers may have had about Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff and their books. He links the imaginary milieu of Celestville to the real milieu of the French haute bourgeoisie in the early part of the [twentieth] century, and we end up understanding both a little better." People reviewer Harriet Shapiro related that "Weber makes no effort to hide his admiration for the artists or the magical world they created," and Perl noted Weber's enthusiasm as well. "Weber's upbeat worldview works for him in The Art of Babar," Perl wrote. "I don't suppose that anybody who didn't believe that the world was a just and rational place could write well about these imaginary elephants…. And when Weber is dealing with some of the series' less pleasant aspects—I am thinking of the caricatured depiction of blacks—he acts as if what makes us uncomfortable were somehow an accident." Perl concluded that "Weber has written what I expect will be an enduring exposition of a classic."

Patron Saints: Five Rebels Who Opened America to a New Art, 1928-1943 chronicles the role played in promoting avant-garde art and artists by Lincoln Kirstein, Edward Warburg, A. Everett "Chick" Austin, James Thrall Soby, and Agnes Mongan. Kirstein and Warburg were college friends who founded the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art at their alma mater and also boosted the careers of choreographer George Balanchine, architect Philip Johnson, and other groundbreaking artists. Austin, as director of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, hosted appearances by Balanchine's American Ballet, performances of Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein's opera Four Saints in Three Acts, and exhibitions of Pablo Picasso's art. Soby, curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, championed the work of painters such as Balthus and Joan Miró. Mongan worked closely with art collector Bernard Berenson, made a case for the importance of fine art drawings, and sought to make the art world more open to women.

Patron Saints, in the words of a Publishers Weekly reviewer, is "an arresting, gossipy, lavishly illustrated group portrait of visionaries who changed the cultural landscape of America." New Republic commentator E.V. Thaw, however, thought these five arts patrons not quite as visionary as Weber would have them: "Weber's heroes inarguably embodied an enlightenment in the arts and its private patronage that is one of our nation's proudest achievements … but they hastened the inevitable." The audience for modern art was burgeoning in the United States and elsewhere before the subjects of Patron Saints became active, Thaw remarked, adding that while they promoted some important artists, these patrons also favored some who were "trivial, campy, and retrograde." Thaw allowed that "Weber has built an interesting story out of what are some footnotes to the history of modernism and its progress on these shores," progress that is "a long and twisting road." Weber, Thaw observed, "has given us a pleasant walk along a mile or two of a little-known stretch of it, showing sights that few of us knew were there."

Balthus: A Biography profiles one of the artists who benefited from the efforts of the "saints." Balthus, most famous for his frankly sexual paintings of young girls, was born Balthazar Klossowski in 1908 to an intellectual, unconventional Polish couple living in Paris. (Later in life, he began calling himself a count and claiming illustrious ancestors such as Polish royalty and the great English poet Lord Byron.) His parents separated in his childhood, and he lived a bohemian life with his mother and her lover, poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who lavished attention on young Balthazar and his brother, Pierre. While Pierre grew up to be a distinguished literary scholar, Balthazar showed artistic talent at an early age; while barely into adolescence, he composed a story in pen-and-ink drawings, and Rilke had it published. After studying art through his teens and into his twenties, the painter "found the subject matter that engaged him for the rest of his life: sleeping or self-absorbed teenage girls, nude or partly nude, often in erotic or sadomasochistic scenes," related Sarah Boxer in the New York Times Book Review. Beginning in the 1930s and '40s, Balthus won notoriety and acclaim with his studies of young women. He also took many young women as lovers, and he married a French aristocrat and then a Japanese artist, with whom he retired to a reclusive life in a Swiss chalet. He granted interviews to Weber, but the author became frustrated by Balthus's evasiveness: "Once I realized I was writing about someone as unscrupulous as he is brilliant, almost as talented at lying as he is at painting'I pretty much stopped meeting with him," the author noted.

Weber turned to other sources, such as analyses of Balthus's art and interviews with the painter's friends and acquaintances, to fill out his account. This makes the book "an amusing account of an earnest snooper in heavy-footed pursuit of an agile dodger," Phoebe-Lou Adams commented in the Atlantic Monthly. She dubbed the biography "peculiar and interesting." In the New Criterion, Merlin James noted that "by continually pairing themes in Balthus's life and work, Weber manages to cover a good deal of factual material without resorting to a straight chronological narrative." He added, however, that "in many ways … the paradoxes and ambiguities of Balthus's life/work relationship are those that pertain for any artist, and the lengthy obsessing on them in this book borders on the wearying." Boxer found Weber's approach to his subject ultimately disappointing: "The paintings certainly invite a psychoanalytic gaze, but Weber does not carry it off. He uses every work to prove the same obvious character flaws: the artist is a narcissist, a lecher, a liar and a cruel and seductive fantasist." Art in America contributor Sue Taylor, however, thought Weber has a tone of "excessive" admiration even when discussing these flaws. The author, she remarked, has provided a "worshipful tribute" to Balthus, whose "predilection for young models needs analysis, not adulation or apology." Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman, on the other hand, called the biography "discerning and compelling," saying: "Weber has succeeded in unmasking Balthus without in any way compromising the dark enchantment of his work." Meanwhile, a Publishers Weekly critic pronounced the book "a splendid account of a complex life and as fine an artist's biography as this season is likely to produce."

In The Clarks of Cooperstown: Their Singer Sewing Machine Fortune, Their Great and Influential Art Collections, Their Forty-year Feud, Weber takes a look at the Clark family, who, despite their influence over American commerce, are not nearly as well known as some of the other great American families who helped to shape the nation. Weber focuses on Edward Clark, an attorney who managed the Singer sewing machine company as a partner to Isaac Singer, and by doing so managed to earn a great deal of money. His son, Alfred, had an interest in art and artists and had a number of affairs with male artists, including a tenor from Norway and a sculptor from France. Alfred's sons continued the family interest in art, particularly French nineteenth-century paintings, and amassed an impressive collection. The family was also responsible for building the famous Dakota building in New York City, on the west side of Central Park. Weber chronicles the ups and downs of the family's relationships, as well as of their art holdings. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews noted that "Weber's insights into the Clarks' complex personalities are supplemented by his knowledgeable analyses of the art they collected." In a review for Booklist, Donna Seaman remarked that the "exquisitely sensitive yet hugely entertaining group portrait of the Clarks is a potent tale of family and wealth, anguish and the solace of art."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Artist, January, 1986, Fridolf Johnson, review of The Drawings of Josef Albers, p. 89; December, 1987, Fridolf Johnson, review of Leland Bell, p. 89.

American Craft, April 1, 2000, Sigrid Wortmann Weltge, review of Anni Albers, p. 40; December, 2004, review of Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living, p. 25.

Art in America, December, 2000, Sue Taylor, "Balthus: Life and Work," p. 35.

Atlantic Monthly, February, 2000, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of Balthus: A Biography, p. 105.

Booklist, February 15, 1999, Veronica Serol, review of Cleve Gray, p. 1024; October 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Balthus, p. 406; April 1, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of The Clarks of Cooperstown: Their Singer Sewing Machine Fortune, Their Great and Influential Art Collections, Their Forty-year Feud, p. 14.

Books, May 19, 2007, "Sowing a Legacy: A Biography of the Art-collecting Clark Family of Cooperstown, NY," p. 4.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April, 1999, M.W. Sullivan, review of Cleve Gray, p. 1449; May, 2000, J.J. Poesch, review of Anni Albers, p. 1636; April, 2005, E.H. Teague, review of Josef and Anni Albers, p. 1388.

Economist, March 4, 2000, review of Balthus, p. 86.

Entertainment Weekly, May 18, 2007, Karen Leigh, review of The Clarks of Cooperstown, p. 70.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2007, review of The Clarks of Cooperstown.

Library Journal, September 15, 1985, Kathryn W. Finkelstein, review of The Woven and Graphic Art of Anni Albers, p. 75; November 1, 1999, Ellen Bates, review of Balthus, p. 79; March 1, 2000, Kathryn Wekselman, review of Anni Albers, p. 89.

London Review of Books, May 24, 2001, Nicholas Penny, "Surrealism à la Courbet," pp. 32-33.

New Criterion, January, 2000, Merlin James, review of Balthus, p. 66.

New Republic, December 11, 1989, Jed Perl, review of The Art of Babar: The Work of Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff, p. 46; November 9, 1992, E.V. Thaw, review of Patron Saints: Five Rebels Who Opened America to a New Art, 1928-1943, p. 45.

New York Review of Books, May 11, 2000, John Russell, review of Balthus, p. 8.

New York Times Book Review, November 28, 1999, Sarah Boxer, "Le Grand Balthus," p. 10.

People, December 4, 1989, Harriet Shapiro, review of The Art of Babar, p. 36.

Publishers Weekly, November 14, 1986, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Leland Bell, p. 49; June 17, 1988, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Warren Brandt, p. 55; July 22, 1988, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Josef Albers: A Retrospective, p. 47; April 13, 1992, review of Patron Saints, p. 46; September 20, 1999, review of Balthus, p. 59.

Washington Post, December 2, 1984, Michael Dirda, review of The Drawings of Josef Albers, p. 17.