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Looking at Pictures

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  146 ratings  ·  28 reviews
A beautiful and elegant collection, with gorgeous full-color art reproductions, Looking at Pictures presents a little-known side of the eccentric Swiss genius: his great writings on art. His essays consider Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Cranach, Watteau, Fragonard, Brueghel and his own brother Karl and also discuss general topics such as the character of the artist and of ...more
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published November 9th 2015 by New Directions / Christine Burgin (first published January 1st 1981)
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Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
This handsome collection of Walser's essays on art is a beautiful book qua book, with sewn pages and pasted-in reproductions of some of the pictures he discusses – it just calls out to you to pick it up and browse. Unfortunately, what Walser is saying is mostly rather banal as criticism – perhaps a better way to think about these pieces is that they are little bursts of creative writing inspired by works of art. This piece from Karl Stauffer-Bern, for instance:

Portrait of Lydia Welti-Escher, 188
In Nature there is no warmth, it is only man–fearful, ever-zealous man–who thinks he ought to feel some. And what charming lies the poets present to us! Poets are not usually acquainted with Nature, they rarely get to know her and don't even wish to. They are generally quite thick-headed. The painter's trade involves his making far more tender observations. It is Nature's indifference and intransigence that often inspire him to apply his most glowing, ardent colors. The task in a certain case is
Mairita (Marii grāmatplaukts)
Spēju novērtēt izdomu, tomēr Valsera kunga daiļmuldēšana galīgi negāja pie sirds. Laikam mūs šķir pārāk liels attālums laikā un uzskatos.
some of walsers little jewels, short thoughts and essays on art , many from and in pre-wwi berlin. it's interesting to see his progression too from savage young-person punk rock attitude to new things and new ways, to a more thoughtful looking at art later, his topics include his brother karl walser's paintings, plus van gogh, fragonard, cezanne etc etc
has lovely, "tacked in" color illustrations and some source end notes.
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A trio of top translators (Susan Bernofsky, Lydia Davis, and Christopher Middleton) tackle Walser's musings, fictional and non-, on paintings. With Walser, the emotional register is all over the place, yet a rhetoric of restrained [with gritted teeth] [pseudo] elegance permeates the tone--often humorously, often with over-the-top dramatics. But Walser is also a serious looker and a shrewd analyst. ...more
Peter Landau
Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Over the last decade or so I’ve been hearing about Robert Walser, mostly from the New York Review of Books. I take their suggestions very seriously, judging books by their covers and attracted to the design of the imprint as much as those great Vintage Contemporary ones from the 1980s. But it was the handsome volume by New Directions (no slouch in art direction), LOOKING AT PICTURES, that finally got me reading. It’s a lesser work, a collection of essays, stories and diversions triggered by clas ...more
jo ianni
Quite honestly one of my favourite short fiction authors beyond any doubt. Wonderful translations in this particular collection of fiction and nonfiction that bring across to English what Walser is known for simplicity, understanding, and surprise.
Oct 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
The title deliberately advises you that this is an account of Walser's response to pictures, rather than a prose retelling of what he saw, which is promising, as visual art should not need verbal description. Equally, it promises an account of the effect of the pictures themselves, unencumbered by the cultural burden of prejudice towards or against an artist. Walser honestly admits that he is often ignorant of the artist's circumstances and inspiration, leaving him free to imagine them, as for e ...more
Mar 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Not exactly what I expected. Walser was a Swiss writer and artist from the first half of the 2oth Century. The book is a series of reflections on art. They are not criticisms but flights of intellectual revelry. His voice reminds of the effete comic characters of 1930s movies, the thin older men with single lens eyewear and high collars and thin ties who expound on the artiste. He doesn't have all that much to say, which is promising in a way. Doing writing about art does not have to be very dif ...more
Santino Prinzi
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be very thought-provoking. It is an essential read for anyone who is interested in Walser or Art. Reproductions of the paintings Walser discusses are included and this is a nice touch.
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Impossible not to be charmed.
Feb 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Like Sister Wendy Beckett and Oscar Wilde had a baby.
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely magical.
Alexa Kibbgy
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Robert Walser's Looking at Pictures is, in the simplest of terms, an eclectic collection of the author's musings on various artworks.
Light-hearted but never shallow, noble but never moralising, charming but never twee. This collection is endearingly "old-fashioned". Beauty, truth and love are central themes, without it feeling like you're reading A Course in Miracles. Quite unexpectedly, Walser's discussion of women and sexuality in this book won't seem archaic to contemporary readers.
This boo
Jul 10, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was, admittedly hard to read. I often found myself having to re-read not only a sentence or an entire page, but sometimes an entire passage. A lot of these works were unpublished ramblings; a far from fluid stream of thoughts that had merely made it to paper. Despite easily getting lost in his flowery words (and not in a good way), I really did enjoy this book. It was interesting to see art through someone else’s eyes. The way Robert gave life to two dimensional pieces was refreshing. ...more
Geri Degruy
Oct 27, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5. An odd, fascinating collection of short essays about art. In some cases Walser describes the art in detail, in some he creates intricate stories about the work discussed, in some he goes into a mode of free association about his own life. The first read was a bit confusing, the second clearer. I've never read anything quite like it. ...more
Steven Severance
Jul 27, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: art
This is a stupid and anoying book. Perhpas these short essays are supposed to be a farce. But in any case don't waste you time reading about art from a writer who is sloppy and incompetent at looking.
I don't know if he is a good short story writer, but as an art critic he is horrible, lacadaisical, flippant, and without integrety.
Nina Shevchuk-Murray
Very elegant writing, very loosely related to the art - as another reviewer pointed out. My favorite essay was on Beardsley - he is so wonderful, and so obscure, and clearly, the latter was not the case for Mr. Walser.
Trevor Incogneato
Thanks Rob
Richard Anderson
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Deeply interesting attempts to analyze the spirit of paintings.
R.K. Cowles
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
3 3/4 stars
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Not as good as I hoped...impulse purchase at the National Gallery of Art's bookstore. Interesting but bizarre. Maybe it went over my head. 🤔 ...more
Sep 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: art
I can't remember anymore what prompted me to want to read this. I know it sounded unusual and I like reading about art. Robert Walser was a Swiss/German poet and writer who was never successful enough to support himself by writing but was greatly admired by his comtemporaries and by later, particularly German, writers. He did most of his work at the turn of the last century so the language here is a bit archaic. He seems to be enjoying something of a revival as his books are in reprint.

It was ce
Apr 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Robert Walser was an eccentric German-speaking Swiss writer in the early 1900s whose work has recently gained increased recognition as a number of English translations have been published. This book collects his meandering quirky ruminations on art. I mostly bought this after reading that the book was uniquely well-constructed. It is a hardcover, handheld-sized, and printed on sturdy paper. The best part is that the book contains 16 tipped-in color reproductions of the paintings discussed in the ...more
Jill Bossert
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Walser's mind works very differently than mine, so he is always surprising. Despite his way of getting at a subject from a unique place, often I find myself saying to myself, "Yes, that is how it is! How did he reach that odd little place in my brain? How wonderful that he did!" This is rich reading, in small doses, admittedly, but worth every minute. Also, kudos to the publisher of this beautifully produced book with its lovely, tipped-in images.
Frank Hoppe
A small book, beautifully made. Robert Walser wrote articles on his responses to examples of art, many original pieces in museums, but also some reproductions. He would then, "hurry home," and write his responses to these works. The articles in this book have been brought into English by a number of translators, but his voice remains distinct throughout. Buy it, read it, and cherish it, or in my case, buy it, read it, and pass it along to a cherished friend. ...more
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Robert Walser, a German-Swiss prose writer and novelist, enjoyed high repute among a select group of authors and critics in Berlin early in his career, only to become nearly forgotten by the time he committed himself to the Waldau mental clinic in Bern in January 1929. Since his death in 1956, however, Walser has been recognized as German Switzerland's leading author of the first half of the twent ...more

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“He doesn’t see his path clearly, but also doesn’t consider this absolutely necessary; he strikes out in some direction or other, and one thing leads to the next. All paths lead to lives of some sort, and that’s all he requires, for every life promises a great deal and is replete with possibilities enchantingly fulfilled.” 2 likes
“For hours and days he sought out ways to make unintelligible the obvious, and to find for things easily understood an inexplicable basis.

--Thoughts on Cezanne”
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