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  • Published: 2 November 2020
  • ISBN: 9781787332898
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $45.00

Keeping an Eye Open

Essays on Art

An updated edition of the highly acclaimed collection of writing on art by one of Britain's best-loved authors, with seven new illustrated essays.

The updated edition of Julian Barnes' best-loved writing on art, with seven new exquisite illustrated essays
'Flaubert believed that it was impossible to explain one art form in terms of another, and that great paintings required no words of explanation. Braque thought the ideal state would be reached when we said nothing at all in front of a painting. But we are very far from reaching that state. We remain incorrigibly verbal creatures who love to explain things, to form opinions, to argue... It is a rare picture which stuns, or argues, us into silence. And if one does, it is only a short time before we want to explain and understand the very silence into which we have been plunged.'

Julian Barnes began writing about art with a chapter on Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa in his 1989 novel A History of the World in 10½ Chapters. Since then he has written a series of remarkable essays, chiefly about French artists, which trace the story of how art made its way from Romanticism to Realism and into Modernism.

Fully illustrated in colour throughout, Keeping an Eye Open contains Barnes' essays on Géricault, Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Morisot, Fantin-Latour, Cézanne, Degas, Cassatt, Redon, Van Gogh, the legendary critic Huysmans, Bonnard, Vuillard, Vallotton, Braque, Magritte, Oldenburg, Howard Hodgkin and Lucian Freud. It also offers new perspectives on the fruitful relationship between writers and artists, and on the rivalry among Russian collectors of French art in the late 19th century.

'A typically elegant and absorbing book by one of the greatest contemporary English writers.' Guardian *Books of the Year*
'Gave me a new confidence in how to understand and, more importantly, enjoy wandering around an exhibition.' Mariella Frostrup
'My book of the year.' Natalie Haynes, Independent

  • Published: 2 November 2020
  • ISBN: 9781787332898
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $45.00

About the author

Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes is the author of thirteen novels, including The Sense of an Ending, which won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and Sunday Times bestsellers The Noise of Time and The Only Story. He has also written three books of short stories, four collections of essays and three books of non-fiction, including the Sunday Times number one bestseller Levels of Life and The Man in the Red Coat, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Duff Cooper Prize. In 2017 he was awarded the Légion d'honneur.

Also by Julian Barnes

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Praise for Keeping an Eye Open

[A] beautifully produced and judiciously illustrated collection.

Keith Miller, 4 stars, Daily Telegraph

I became entirely mesmerised by Barnes’ prose… Keeping an Eye Open is a rich and thoughtful book that should not be rushed. These essays are too full of chiaroscuro, their flashes of illumination too fascinating, their connections too interesting for a cursory reading.

Roma Tearne, Independent

It’s a readable, riveting, informed work with sharp, marvelous anecdotes and observations. In this beautifully illustrated book you’re in great company. Barnes is a sane and steady guide… Wonderful stuff.

Niall McMonagle, Irish Independent

Extremely rewarding, informative, attentive, thoughtful, entertaining essays.

David Sexton, Evening Standard

This is an erudite, entertaining and highly personal collection of essays from the Booker Prize-winning novelist.

Sebastian Shakespeare, Tatler

For their insights all these essays are worth reading.

Brian Sewell, Oldie

Barnes’s essays abound in verbal images that are pictorially vivid.

Peter Conrad, Observer

This magnificent survey draws its strength from its intensely personal focus, each piece reverberating off others despite the long span of their composition. It’s a stream of thinking, over years, rather than a set of disparate essays… [A] fascinating and brilliant book.

Jan Dalley, Financial Times

The pieces show Barnes to be a sympathetic and enthusiastic critic, with a tremendous ability to convey the visceral impact of a painting.

Ian Critchley, Sunday Times

A brilliant collection of essays by the novelist.

Mail on Sunday

[An] always entertaining and enlightening collection.

Alan Taylor, Herald

If only all art writing were as good as this.

Michael Prodger, New Statesman

[An] engrossing collection.

Jonathan Meades, Spectator

Barnes’s essays abound in verbal images that are pictorially vivid.

Peter Conrad, Guardian Weekly

Barnes weaves biography, history, philosophy [together] in this fascinating, richly illuminating and beautifully written book.

Claire Wrathall, Art Quarterly

Hard not to see this being my book of the year.

Natalie Haynes, Independent

There’s no hint of pretentiousness here, so why not revel in Barnes’ wit and arch insight.

Fatima Hasan, Radio Times

In Keeping an Eye Open [Barnes] proves to be a thoughtful observer of art, and a keen student of its history.

Hannah Shaddock, Radio Times


John Boland, Irish Independent

[Barnes] is bold, acerbic and free from phony reverence. He is also genuinely fascinated by visual art in itself and not as a prompt for flights of prosodic fancy. The pieces are replete with unashamed pleasure in looking and teasing out connections.

Alexander Adams, Jackdaw

Fully illustrated in colour throughout, this is a fascinating and insightful look into the world of art from Romanticism to Realism.

Good Book Guide

The essays are not just novel in form but clear and even elegantly written.

Sam Rose, Times Literary Supplement

Combining what is clearly a life-long love of art with an admirable depth of knowledge, Barnes brings a novelist’s eye to the gallery wall and, with this, a fresh, accessible approach to the stories being told in each painting.

Lucy Scholes, Independent

Thought-provoking, beautifully presented, tender.

Rachel Joyce, Observer

Barnes has a wonderful eye for what makes a good picture, and a command of language that again and again allows readers to share what he sees.

Andrew Scull, Times Literary Supplement

Well-informed and deeply admiring, but never didactic.

Prue Leith, Woman and Home

[It] gave me a new confidence in how to engage with, understand and, more importantly, enjoy wandering around an exhibition.

Mariella Frostrup, Observer

For those…insecure when viewing art, not always sure how to decode it or emotionally engage with it, this offers a lifeline…Utterly compelling.

Mail on Sunday, Mariella Frostrup

A typically elegant ad absorbing book by one of t great contemporary English Writers, and with strong Gallic undertones – a wonderful set of essays about artists, many of them French, covering the period from Romanticism through to modernism.

Terry Lempiere, Guardian

Opinionated, enthusiastic, witty and beautifully written.

Charlotte Heathcote, Sunday Express

The essay on Lucian Freud...is completely brilliant. I feel uplifted by it... It is a wonderful book.

Celia Paul