Last year, the year of his death, Mario Praz's An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration was once again made available, after being out of print for a decade. William Weaver's English translation of La Filosofia dell' Arredamento was first published in 1964, which means that there were about ten years when you could buy it new, and then about ten years when you couldn't. No doubt it was obtainable second-hand if you looked hard enough. For myself, only recently did it begin occurring to me that some of even the most famous books on art would have to be bought second-hand if they were to be bought at all, since their chances of being reprinted in any form weren't bright, and if they did get a reprint they wouldn't necessarily look their best - no small consideration when the quality of the design was part of the original appeal. As it happens, Interior Decoration is now reissued looking almost as good as before, even if some of the colour plates are a bit lipsticky. But the book might just as easily have done a quiet disappearing act. Our reassuring assumption that Thames and Hudson, Phaidon, and a few other imprints, are looking after the whole business - the business, that is, of getting our eyes educated and keeping them that way - is not necessarily well founded. They've done just that for a long time, but by now the job of transmitting the past seems to have used up some of the energy that was once available for it. The sense of mission is gone. There is no need to beat one's breast at its passing, especially if it was a response to catastrophe in the first place, but perhaps it is time to begin appreciating some of its fruits at their true high value.
LRB 17 March 1983 | PDF Download