Vernon Lee (Violet Paget)

Bernerd Berenson english

Bernerd Berenson


 1865~1959. A Jewish art critic born in Lithuania. In his childhood, he and his family moved to the United States and he studied at Harvard University. He became the authority of the Renaissance arts. He introduced the concept of "tactile value" into the art criticism. The major work of his is The Italian Painters of the Renaissance(1952). Kenneth Clark studied under Berenson.
 When Berenson's Florentine Painters of the Renaissance was published, Lee wrote the review and there is the passage in it: "That Mr. Berenson is not a student of mental science." At the same time, she agrees with Berenson's idea that art is "life-enhancing." Vineta Colby writes: "The connection that Berenson made between "tactile values" and "life-enhancing qualities" confirmed her (Lee's) long held conviction of what she called "the general wholesomeness of art." Berenson introduced psychology of sympathy into art criticism, which Lee succeeds. They have a lot in common in terms of temperaments: Colby writes: "They (Lee and Berenson) were too much alike in temperament―volatile, argumentative, sensitive to every slight real or imagined―dependent on the devotion of others." (P.158.) As an art critic, Lee learns mainly from German psychology established by such critics as Theodor Lipps. Berenson had a lot of knowledge on German psychology and he also learned a lot from the theories by William James and James Lange.

The Italian Painters of the Renaissance

 Berenson visited Lee's house in Florence in 1889. While he made harsh comments on Lee's Baldwin like "fog banks of metaphysics, theology, and economics," on Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy, Belcaro, and Euphorion he made favorable comments in magazines.
 Berenson asked advice for Lee. While Lee praised his talent to appreciate arts, she also recognizes his weakness in literary expression. She regards Berenson's work not as "aesthetics" but as "connoirseurship." At first, she doesn't him as a rival, but Berenson seems to think of her as his rival.
 When Berenson met Lee and her friends at Lee' house, he felt uneasy at their closeness. After that, Lee and Berenson visited art museums together. Berenson wrote on women around Lee: "a flock of women...all striking more or less Botticellian poses, all breathing an aura of acute Renaissance." (Colby, Vernon Lee, P.132.)Vineta Colby asserts that Berenson couldn't hide antipathy against "asexuality" among Lee and her friends.
 In 1896, Berenson published The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance and theory showed in this book is similar to that in Lee's essay 'Beauty and Ugliness' published in Contemporary Review in 1897. Therefore, Berenson sued Lee on the charge of plagiarism. Berenson claims that what Lee claims in the essay is what he himself told me when they together visited museums. The trial ended in his withdrawing the suit. The essay was published in 1912 in Beauty and Ugliness and Other Studies in Psychological Aesthetics.
 Job Briggs argues minutely on the problem of plagiarism between Lee and Berenson in ’Plural Anomalies: Gender and Sexuality in Bio-Critical Readings of Vernon Lee.'(Catherine Maxwell ed. Vernon Lee: Decadence, Ethics, Aesthetics)To sum up Briggs' claim, while there are often "examples of sexual dissidence' in Lee's art criticism, in Briggs' sexual connotation is little. Briggs writes: "art has impact only in so far as it imitates and condenses the qualities of some other actual object we can recognize and compare it to. Unlike the modernity of Vernon Lee and Anstruther-Thomson's understanding of what may constitute art, this way of thinking seems firmly rooted in the nineteenth century." (P.168.) Briggs asserts that Berenson's art criticism belongs to the 19th century and Lee's one belongs to the 20th century criticism.
 In his autobiography Sketch for a Self-Portrait(1949), he refers to the episode of conflict with Vernon Lee. In 1920, Lee and Berenson became reconciled.

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