Art Book of the Day : FROM THE BLACK SEA THROUGH PERSIA AND INDIA by Edwin Lord Weeks


Less an art book than a travelogue/diary and historical exploration of an at the time still largely mysterious region, FROM THE BLACK SEA THROUGH PERSIA AND INDIA is an 1890s scholarly work (done during a time of an earlier Afghanistan War)on that area between the lands of Nubia and Asia that today we call the Middle East, by one of the preeminent artists of the 19th century, Edwin Lord Weeks.


I first became aware of his glorious oil paintings when visiting the Richmond Art Museum a couple years back. His HOUR OF PRAYER painting in person, is simply massive in scale, and cannot truly be appreciated except in person (when you stand in front and beneath the painting, it’s like you could walk into it), carrying as it does not just the seminal strokes of a realist at the height of his powers, but the weight of history and a moment of time, and region, and culture (all of which is under threat of going away) preserved here; hauntingly captured.

For more on my first exposure to Edwin Lord Weeks go here!

I have since seen several other Edwin Lord Weeks paintings in person, Weeks was a very prolific artist, and another standout is INTERIOR OF THE MOSQUE AT CORDOVA.

While not as large as HOUR OF PRAYER it is a gorgeous painting at any size, unlike HOUR OF PRAYER where pictures on the web don’t do it justice. Part of what makes HOUR OF PRAYER the award winner that it was, is the play of yourself against its vast spaces. There is an alchemy that happens when you see that picture in person, that is not reproducible on your computer screen. INTERIOR OF THE MOSQUE AT CORDOVA, in contrast, is a far more repeatable image. What you see on the web or in a book, is a good approximation of what you’ll see in person.


Along with Virgil Finlay, Robert Duncanson, and Zdzislaw Beksinski; Edwin Lord Weeks quickly became one of those IT artists for me. A massive artistic talent whose work was largely unknown, or under appreciated to this day, and definitely still largely unheralded/uncollected in a comprehensive tome. He became an artist I set out to find books by and about.

Today’s selection is one of those books.

“With the permission from the War Department to visit Central Asia came an urgent telegram from the American legation at St. Petersburg, advising us not to go on account of the cholera which, after devastating Meshed, had left Persia and invaded the Russian provinces. We were then leaving for Constantinople by the Camboge, and finding that she would not proceed to Batoum, by reason of quarantine we were again forced to change our route. This time we elected to follow the old caravan from Trebizond on the Black Sea, to Tabreez, through the mountains of Kurdistan, that country of indefinite boundaries.

In short, there was no other route left open to us; we must either turn back, or, setting our face forward, head straight for the Persian frontier, five hundred miles away, and we decided to go on.”
—-Lord Edwin Weeks, from the preface to FROM THE BLACK SEA THROUGH PERSIA AND INDIA.

Being in the public domain there are numerous variations of this work online. The quality is all a bit less than stellar, as largely it looks to be photocopies of photocopies, and the pencil drawings/sketches that accompanies the words, all a bit muted… still there is enough there to get the brilliance, and you can flip to any page, read a paragraph and be entranced by Weeks’ evident love and romance for the region.

So until a proper tome dedicated to Lord Edwin Weeks is done, for reasons both historical and cultural this 462 page book, to any fan of the work of Weeks, is a must own.

Get your copy here:

From the Black Sea through Persia and India

Nineteenth-Century American Painting: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

And American Gallery offers a great look at Weeks’ paintings here.




I was turned on, introduced seems the wrong word, to the art of Mark A. Nelson via his coverage in SPECTRUM, Volume 15 or 16.

One of his penciled drawings, rich with detail just stood out from the rest of the Spectrum pages, just compellingly good. I immediately knew I needed to get an artbook from this artist.

And having acquired FROM PENCILS TO INKS, I have to say Mark A. Nelson’s work in quantity… lives up to expectations and exceeds them. The book itself is a slight softcover volume, but is worth acquiring for the pencil and ink work alone. There are also examples of sequential work in the book, but the real selling point is the pen and ink full page spreads.

A staggering amount of texture, and just a boundless creativity and imagination. This volume can be a bit hard to find, but it’s worth the hunt. Strongly Recommended.
From Pencils to Inks: The Art of Mark A. Nelson: Price it Here!

p.s. Quick update. I’ve been informed by the artist himself (way cool)that you should also be able to get this book, prints and other items worth your patronage… here: GRAZING DINOSAUR PRESS!.

Now go peruse some art! 🙂

THE BEST OF VIRGIL FINLAY: An overview of the best Virgil Finlay art books Pt 1 of 2!

“How does it feel?

How does it feel?

To be on your own?!

With no direction home?!

How does it feel?”

—Bob Dylan

Okay, onto this installment’s topic…

Virgil Finlay.

Do you know the name?

A month ago, I couldn’t say I did.

I had come across his work and his name in passing, without ever really internalizing them. A month or so ago I picked up a lavish Edgar Allen Poe tome, and the most memorable and impressive thing about it was this one Virgil Finlay drawing.

It set me off it did.

The compulsive in me.

The collector in me.

The one for whom… nothing is forgotten. Nothing is ever forgotten.

Least of all the fleeting, tortured gasps of genius… we call art.

Virgil Finlay was an artist of the early days of the 20th century. Perpetually underpaid, he crafted time-consuming masterpieces of pen and ink (done one laborious drop at a time, no photoshop for him, no short-cuts, what you see in his drawings is a level of detail that could only be called… staggering) for the popular, but cheap mass medium, of penny a word pulps.

Hailed as a master in his own lifetime, he was the sought after artist for many up and coming writers, making their name in the pulps… among them Harlan Ellison and Robert Bloch.

His work decades later, even to I… who am somewhat informed of the work of great artists past and present, is revelatory.

It is the work of someone… compelled.

“We do these things not because they are permitted.

We do them because we are compelled.”
—Rorschach in Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN

There are various Virgil Finlay art books but only five that I consider… must have additions to any art lover’s library. The five books being in chronological order THE BOOK OF VIRGIL FINAY (1975)

It is testament to Finlay’s prodigious talent and output that these five books, over a 130pages, each chock full of full page Finlay art, that there is surprisingly little overlap of material. Each book offers something essential not found in the others, and as such it’s an impressive and, I feel, highly worthwhile quintet of books, and overview of an artist, and his art. And they all leave you with an indelible interest to read the short stories (typically) that Finlay’s illustrations complemented.

If you have to choose one book to start with, the well named THE BOOK OF VIRGIL FINLAY is a good one. Compiled by Art Collector Gerry De La Ree, he had more to do with keeping Finlay’s name alive, and championing him in the early 70s and bringing his largely forgotten work (mostly left to rot in the browning pulp pages of the 30s and 40s that they adorned),to a new generation. Much as Francis M. Nevins unflagging writings and praise helped lionize, justly, the work of Cornell Woolrich to modern readers far removed from his pulp heyday.

Indeed Edgar Allen Poe himself, dismissed in his own life time and years later, owes his current elevated literary status to a biography done on him in the early 20th century. Again by a collector and a fan. So the importance of the fan, the collector, the patron, the lover of art… can not be overstated.

Because without this person to glorify the work, it runs the high risk, in an always mercenary market, of rotting away.

Gerry De La Ree, is not Virgil Finlay’s only champion, but his 1975 book marks him as one of those pivotal voices, whose work has helped preserve Finlay from that most common curse of men… that we and our works are forgotten.

In 1975 Gerry De La Ree’s book was both eulogy and clarion call to his friend and idol, it was testament… proof against his friend being forgotten. And it worked, because 36 years after the publication of THE BOOK OF VIRGIL FINLAY, I’m talking about the book, and the man, and his art. And it spurred me to pick up the other 4 essential Finlay books.

And I think, it will you.

THE BOOK OF VIRGIL FINLAY is not the best book of the five, (this being the Avon Books Softcover I’m referring to, I’ve never seen a copy of Gerry De La Ree’s Self Published Hardcover) construction-wise it suffers from poor paper stock and even poorer binding. If you can find a copy today that does not suffer from browning, mildewed pages, or crumbing binding and evaporated glue (I have one copy, that basically turned into a pile of looseleaf pages as soon as I tried to look through it) then get it and hold onto it.

Because poor construction aside what TBOVF does offer, that none of the other books does, is a chronological overview of Finlay’s artwork that covers the years from 1933 to 1968.

It’s amazing to see that over this 30+ year period, how consistently excellent and varied and innovative and experimental is Finlay’s output. Beyond the constants of masterful detail, his imagination makes each drawing fresh, and eschewing stereotypes.

So THE BOOK OF VIRGIL FINLAY is a must own book, if you can get it in any thing approaching collectible condition. Strongly Recommended. We’ll cover the other four books in an upcoming post.

“I make no claim that these are the best of Finlay, though certainly many of them rank with his best and, hopefully will demonstrate the meticulous craftsmanship of this man who took such pride in his art despite the inferior publications for which he often was working.”
–From Gerry De La Ree’s Introduction to THE BEST OF VIRGIL FINLAY