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Roger Fry’s ‘Difficult and Uncertain Science’

The Interpretation of Aesthetic Perception


Adrianne Rubin

This new study traces the development and evolution of the writings of Roger Fry (1866-1934), a highly influential art critic who introduced modern French painting to Britain in the early twentieth century. Through close analysis of his writings, the author examines the role that emerging psychological theories played in the formulation and expression of Fry’s aesthetic theories. She also discusses aspects of physiological psychology, Gestalt theory, psychoanalysis and adaptive psychology, arguing that detailed analyses of aesthetic perception comprise the core of Fry’s writings. Though he has rarely been credited with this goal, this volume shows that Fry sought to make art accessible to a wide audience and that highlighting the universal aspects of aesthetic perception was a means to this end.
The book offers a chronological study of select essays and lectures, both published and unpublished, written by Roger Fry between the 1890s and his death in 1934. Where relevant his writings are juxtaposed with those of other art critics and theorists to identify factors that shaped his thinking and his use of terminology and to clarify the critical context in which he was working. Since Fry’s work as a visual artist ran alongside his critical thinking, some attention is given to his paintings as a method of illustrating his practical experimentation with aesthetic principles, particularly formalist concepts.


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Figure 1 Roger Fry, Venice, 1890s, Oil on canvas, 76.6 × 101.7 cm, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London 32 Figure 2 Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ, 1450s, Tempera on panel, 167 × 116 cm, National Gallery, London / The Bridgeman Art Library International 43 Figure 3 Paul Cézanne, Pot Vert et Bouilloire d’Etain (Still Life with Kettle), c. 1869, Oil on canvas, 64 × 81 cm, Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY 45 Figure 4 Paul Cézanne, Montagne Sainte-Victoire, c. 1882, Oil on canvas, 66.8 × 92.3 cm, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London 101 Figure 5 Vasily Kandinsky, Landscape with Two Poplars, 1912, Oil on canvas, 78.8 × 100.4 cm, Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection, 1931.508, The Art Institute of Chicago, © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 113 Figure 6 Vasily Kandinsky, Improvisation No. 29 (The Swan), 1912, Oil on canvas, 106 × 97 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950, © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris 114 Figure 7 Roger Fry, Portrait of Edith Sitwell, 1915, Oil on canvas, 61 × 45.7 cm, Shef field Galleries and Museums Trust, © Museums Shef field / The Bridgeman Art Library International 127 Figure 8 Roger Fry, Orchard, Woman Seated in a Garden, 1912–1914, Oil on canvas, 35.6 × 30.5 cm, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London 130 Figure 9 Roger Fry, Still Life with Cof fee Pot, 1915, Oil, bodycolour...

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