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NONFICTION : IMPRESSIONISM AND POST-IMPRESSION: THE HERMITAGE, LENINGRAD; THE PUSHKIN MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, MOSCOW, AND THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON by Marina Bessonova and William James Williams (Hugh Lauter Levin and Aurora, distributed by Macmillan; $60 through Dec. 31, $75 thereafter).

August 17, 1986|Suzanne Muchnic

The raison d'etre of this decorative souvenir of recent Soviet-American art exchanges is pictures. Words are a mere point of entrance to 277 color reproductions of paintings owned by two superpowers. William James Williams, speaking for the National Gallery, condenses the history of early modern painting on the head of a pin and chronicles its introduction into American collections. Marina Bessonova justly credits Russian merchants Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov with establishing the Soviet Union's unsurpassed cache of late 19th- and early 20th-Century French paintings. Biographical blurbs precede illustrations by 23 artists. But programmatic text quickly gives way to extraordinary artworks. They proceed from Boudin's plein air landscapes through the Impressionists, Nabis, Fauvists and end with the early phase of Picasso's protean achievement. Students of modern art's formative years will find nothing new in this compilation; it's simply an attractive memento of a cultural exchange published to cash in on a popular event and glorify state collections.

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