Vivian Sky Rehberg on Vernon Lee and Marion Milner

The Psychology of an Art Writer provides a beautiful account of Lee’s looking and feeling and thinking and writing about art’

‘The greatest pleasures of reading consist in re-reading. Sometimes almost in not reading at all, but just thinking or feeling what there is inside the book ...’ Around the time I was reading these lines from British author Vernon Lee’s Hortus Vitae: Essays on the Gardening of Life (1904), I noticed that David Zwirner Books was about to publish a translation of her French essay ‘Psychologie d’un écrivain sur l’art (observation personnelle)’ from 1903, which I had read, ages ago, in French. The slim, pocket-sized volume The Psychology of an Art Writer (2018), translated by Jeff Nagy, also contains Lee’s English language ‘Gallery diaries’. Together, they provide a beautiful account of Lee’s looking and feeling and thinking and writing about art.

Analyzing her artistic and intellectual preferences, Lee (the pseudonym of Violet Paget, who lived from 1856 to 1935) explores her aesthetic experiences in diaristic ways that echo the work of another of my major inspirations, the British psychologist and educator Marion Milner, whose collected writings, especially A Life of One’s Own (published under the pseudonym Joanna Field in 1934), I’ve been re-reading and working through over the past year in an effort to understand my own inclinations.

Main Image: John Singer Sargent, Vernon Lee, 1881, oil paint on canvas. Courtesy: Tate, London

Vivian Sky Rehberg is a contributing editor of frieze and course director of the Master of Fine Art at the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. She lives in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019

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