by Carel Blotkamp. Reaktion Books, December 2019. 248 p. ill. ISBN 978178911313 (h/c), $25.00.
Reviewed March 2020
Lindsey Reno, Acquisitions Librarian/Liaison to the School of the Arts, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans, firstname.lastname@example.org
In The End: Artists’ Late and Last Works, Carel Blotkamp explores the topic of artists’ last works for the first time as a full monograph.
Blotkamp explains how difficult it can be to identify the last work of a deceased artist. He describes the many factors that would go into such a determination. This is often helped or hindered by an artist’s work habits and the size of their business. Is there documentation or personal correspondence that could help? Did the artist have staff members assisting them who could provide insight? There is also the issue of artists having multiple ongoing works in progress. Upon determination of a last work, one must also question whether the work was finished or unfinished.
In the first chapter, the author looks at the deaths and works of a number of different artists, as well as the theme of death in some works, particularly self-portraits. He explores the ways in which a work can be interpreted based upon the fact of the artist’s recent death. The author writes of the “myths and legends” that often surround a last work and how these works are received posthumously.
Blotkamp uses two chapters of the book to discuss specific artists and their last works; chapter two is completely devoted to Raphael. The author describes him as a “protoype” and asserts that his last work was the first to take on the aforementioned “mythical” qualities attributed to artists’ last works. In chapter four, the author writes about Mondrian and his last uncompleted work Victory Boogie-Woogie.
Chapter three explores last and late works, as well as the state of mind and physical condition of the artists at the time. The author does include discussion about artists whose last works were bookmarked not by death, but by retirement.
The book is well-written, as well as a unique and interesting read. It is moderately illustrated and includes images of the key works discussed in the text. The End is recommended for libraries serving colleges and universities that teach art history at the undergraduate level.