I found this book fascinating. I read the entire thing
on a plane on the way to and from France. Being able to concentrate on
one thing on eight hour flights testifies to Updike's charm and unique,
personal observations that lie at the heart of these essays.
My favorites: Something Missing: An insightful look at John Singer Sargent,
probably my favorite watercolorist and a great painter overall. The
essay focuses on a sense of American-ness that Updike feels is lacking
from Sargent's works, though he otherwise praises them. It's worth
getting the book just for the reproductions in this essay; Millet's
Garden and Alpine Pool are two good examples.
A Case of Solicitude: A nice short essay on
Modigliani, which includes a great sketch of a seated nude and describes
the striking effect Reclining Nude had on Updike in MOMA.
A Case of Melancholia: One of the longer essays
in the book, an in-depth look at the life and work of the early-twentieth-century
cartoonist Ralph Barton Lots of great cartoons in here, specifically
chosen to allow an examination of Barton's psychological profile, and
the events leading up to his suicide in 1931.
Writers and Artists: Perhaps my favorite here,
Updike looks at the connection between visual and written creativity.
Some surprisingly advanced drawings by such writers as Poe, Goethe, Wilde,
and Updike himself.