WHENEVER I'M asked to review a book, I approach it with a sense of responsibility bordering on trepidation, and this time was no exception.
Expecting a book aimed at children I found that, despite the subtitle, rarely had I seen anything that looked less appropriate for younger readers. The text seemed to be set in type far too small for children to read with ease, and the labels identifying the illustrations even more so, so I began to wonder if I had possibly misunderstood. But in the first few lines of the introduction there were some thoughts that settled the issue: "Pictures are made for different reasons. Some instruct us about something: how to put a tent together, for instance, or how to fly a kite."
There could be no doubt about it. It was a book for children after all.
It would be both unfair and senseless to point out that most volumes on the history of art contain a more complete collection of reproductions than this book. But completeness is in no way the purpose of this book; therefore, why quibble about Holme's selections? The ancient Romans had a proverb for it: "There is no arguing taste."
Still one connot help wondering why, in a book intending to introduce children to the vast world of art, three of the 96 illustrations are by Renoir, when, with the exception of two Degas paintings, all other impressionists, from van Gogh to Monet, have been ignored. In the same way, one can wonder why Holme chose a Rothko over a Mondrian, and so forth.
Of the illustrations, which are, withour exception, top quality, 44 are in color, and handsome reproductions they are. The paper is excellent; even for $9.95 the book is rather a bargain these days. That most of the illustrations are black and white is, of course, an inescapable fact of life; if all of it had been full color the book would probably have priced itself out of the market. The black-and-white pictures generally serve their purpose well: Velasquez's Juan de pareja is almost as vibrant and alive as he would have been in color. However, Chagall's Homage to the Eiffel Tower I find downright unappealing because color is the very essence of his work. A Chagall without color is no Chagall, and practically meaningless, like a Chartres rose-window seen only in gray.
The lack of color also vastly detracts from Canaletto's Marriage of venice to the Adriatic , no matter how much detail one can discover on the double spread of that painting-all the more so when the text mentions Canaletto's "most glowing colors."
The relatively brief text is by no means uninformative. It is geared to younger children, although one wonders if they will, for example, understand a reference to Homer, or to Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. At times Holme seems to be talking down to his readers, as in the case of Crivelli's The Annunciation : "No one could produce a picture like this today, no matter how hard they tried." Besides, this is simply not so.
Enchanted World is a well intentioned, civilized, and tastefully executed, yet dualistic book, based on a sound idea. It misses its mark in that it is essentially neither fish nor fowl: It is not a true book for children-it is too unchildlike for that-nor a book for adults, because for that it is too childish. CAPTION: Picture, "The Annunciation," by Crivell from "Enchanted World"