While Art and Illusion as published is divided into eleven chapters and four parts, the lectures on which the work is based were symmetrical; the introduction is a full segment, similar in length to the chapters, and flows directly into a first part which has but two chapters of its own. The reader is informed that one could go directly from the introduction, titled “Psychology and the Riddle of Style,” to chapter 9, “The Analysis of Vision in Art,” which begins part 4 (the final part). Nevertheless, the intervening portions were integral to the whole when Ernst Hans Gombrich delivered the fifth annual A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in 1956.
The book, which is volume 35 in the Bollingen series, has retained the lectures’ sequential progression, and the 320 illustrations of works of art or details from them that are included appear at appropriate points, as the lecturer would have employed them. In a fundamental sense, the book could be read (or the lectures have been heard) as an extended commentary upon a major painting in the collection of the National Gallery of Art: John Constable’s landscape Wivenhoe Park, Essex, painted in 1816. The enormous wealth of the context Gombrich provides for his commentary, however, moves one beyond the understanding of a particular painter and a particular painting to one important approach to the historical context of works of art.
Behind these lectures is history—of philosophy, of science, of psychology, of aesthetics, of materials, of techniques—so much so that it is appropriate to recall Art and Illusion’s subtitle: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, which on examination proves to encapsulate the book’s focal theme. The reader is reminded in the very brief “Retrospect,” by explicit references and generous quotations, that Gombrich had already published...
(The entire section is 798 words.)