From the Booker Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Sense of an Ending and Levels of Life: seventeen extraordinary essays on art that trace the arc from Romanticism to Realism and into Modernism. Flaubert believed that great paintings required no words of explanation. But, as Barnes notes, it is a rare picture that stuns, or argues, us into silence. And when this does happen, we feel compelled to explain the very silence into which we have been plunged. In this illuminating collection of essays on art, Barnes turns his narrative gifts toward some of the most important paintings in the Western canon, eloquently voicing our reactions to these images—what they cause us to think and feel, and why. From Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa to Degas’s The Dance Lesson to Braque’s Cubism to the “good soft fun” of Oldenburg, Barnes effortlessly fits these pieces into the larger dramas of the artists’ lives and works. Taken together, these essays give us a wonderful overview of art from Romanticism onward—and are a true pleasure to read.