James Philip Head
North Loop Books (2019)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19)
“Romantic Illusions” is the second book in the An Affair with Beauty trilogy by James Philip Head. An exquisite celebration honoring the life of Howard Chandler Christy, one of the most famous American artists and illustrators in the Jazz Era, this book is a piece of art in itself.
Howard Chandler Christy is perhaps best known for the “Christy Girl,” a representation of the ideal modern woman at the turn of the twentieth century. His work encompassed a much wider scope than beautiful women however, because Howard Chandler Christy saw beauty in everything. His creations include illustrations of events witnessed first-hand during the Spanish-American War, illustrations for magazines, posters aiding WWI recruitment efforts for the military, and portraits of some of the most well-known, powerful and influential people during the time period, including presidents and congressmen, movie stars, socialites, generals, etc.
“Romantic Illusions” covers Howard Chandler Christy’s life in the early years as he was making a name for himself as an illustrator, up to the time when he chooses his new profession in the art world as a portraitist.
I have to say I loved everything about this book from beginning to end! Howard Chandler Christy was a figure larger than life. By documenting this life in such a beautiful manner, the author does justice not only to Christy’s legacy but to the art world and American history as well.
The story is told from the perspective of Howard’s wife, Nancy Palmer Christy, and the delivery is spell-binding. Set in 1969, Nancy Palmer Christy is now an elderly woman, and as she reflects on her early days with Howard and their time together, she transports the reader back in time. I felt as though she was speaking to me directly. The inclusion of Howard’s voice interacting with Nancy throughout the narrative allows readers the opportunity to actually get inside his head, and by the end of the story readers will experience a familiar camaraderie with Howard, and actually with Nancy as well.
“Romantic Illusions” is a remarkable story and the author, James Philip Head, does an amazing job. Well-written, engaging, no – mesmerizing, the passion he has for his subject is undeniable. Going far beyond the bounds of typical research, one gets the impression James Philip Head somehow transported himself directly into the artist’s shoes, reliving Christy’s experiences first-hand. As a reader, I was moved and appreciated the attention to detail and the love that was put into keeping the legacy that is Howard Chandler Christy alive.
Further demonstrating the author’s passion for his work, he also includes a complete listing of the portraits painted by Christy during his lifetime in the back of the book. As per the author’s impeccable style, this is not a mere listing of names and dates – no, no. Rather, he has taken the time to research the people in these portraits, regaling readers with interesting tidbits of their lives. I found this section to be fascinating!
As with everything else I’ve mentioned, the production quality of this book is superior – from the satiny pages to the gorgeous cover art and amazing photographs displayed throughout. I think it’s fair to say this book is a beautiful complement to any personal library. I have my copy displayed on my coffee table, which has piqued the curiosity of many family members and friends, beginning with my young history graduate!
Everything about “Romantic Illusions,” book two in the An Affair with Beauty trilogy by James Philip Head is top-notch – a notable piece celebrating American culture, art, history, and beauty – and an extraordinary read. Well done!