Art books to give this Christmas

Published 27 November 2015

Make it a cultural festive season with the best art books for friends and family.

  • From the Winter 2015 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    Sunlight on the River: Poems About Paintings, Paintings About Poems

    Scott Gutterman (ed.), Prestel, £24.99
    This handsome volume examines the ways painters and poets have inspired one another, using nearly 60 examples – the poem on one page, the painting opposite. In some, the painting gave birth to the poem (Anne Sexton’s The Starry Night from Van Gogh’s picture), in others the parentage was reversed (Rauschenberg’s Canto I after Dante’s Inferno). It is a simple but effective conceit.

    Body of Art

    Rebecca Morrill et al (eds.), Phaidon, £39.95
    A sumptuous and continually surprising survey of how, for 35 millennia, artists have represented their primary motif – the human body. More than 400 artists are represented in themed chapters on the body in religion, power, sex, gender and so on. The editors have grouped their pictures in thought-provoking ways – for example, an Otto Dix bordello nods at a George Condo orgy. Short interpretive texts make the correspondences even more resonant.

    Weatherland: Writers and Artists Under English Skies

    Alexandra Harris, Thames & Hudson, £24.95.
    If the English national topic is the weather, then our writers and artists are true patriots. Clever Alexandra Harris (author of award-winning Romantic Moderns) looks at what they have made of what confronted them when they drew back the morning curtains. Whistler’s Nocturnes, Lowry’s leaden skies, Millais’s Autumn Leaves, Lear’s blasted heath… Harris brilliantly shows how the weather has seeped into our art like damp, winter fog.

    The People’s Galleries

    Giles Waterfield, Yale University Press, £45
    Giles Waterfield’s impressive scholarly history of the birth of the public gallery spans the period 1800 to 1914. He looks not just at the big London institutions but also at the popularity of galleries in Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds and so on. Intended to educate the workers, and using new ideas such as temporary exhibitions, their success was phenomenal: in 1857 the Manchester Art Treasures show drew 1.25 million visitors. This is the ancestry of today’s gallery culture.

  • The Green Fingers of Monsieur Monet

    Giancarlo Ascari & Pia Valentinis, RA Publications, £10.95
    Inspired by the RA’s Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, this illustrated book sets the scene for children. It describes, briefly and in simple pictures (Valentinis) and words (Ascari), how Monet made his garden at Giverny and what his little demesne meant to him and his painting. This is an entirely unpretentious book and a perfect primer for art-inquisitive nine-year-olds plus.

    Dawn Ades: Writings on Art and Anti-Art

    Doro Globus (ed.), Ridinghouse, £20
    In this meaty compendium Ades ranges across the 20th century, with essays on individuals (Moore, Duchamp, Dali?), movements (Dada, Surrealism) and various mediums such as photomontage. From this thoughtful broad sweep emerge her signature topics: how art is used; the female body; the variety of abstraction. She avoids the theoretical and overtly biographical, and while her writing can be knotty it is also rewarding.

    Francis Bacon in Your Blood

    Michael Peppiatt, Bloomsbury Circus, £25
    For almost 30 years the art writer Michael Peppiatt was Francis Bacon’s boozy Boswell, recording epic sessions of eating, drinking and talking. While he has often written about Bacon the artist, this memoir is about Bacon the friend who also played a role in Peppiatt’s own emotional maturation. Full of anecdotes, characters (Freud, the Krays, David Sylvester) and bad behaviour, it is an entertaining, touching look at art’s lord of misrule.

    Sybil Andrews Linocuts

    Hana Leaper, Lund Humphries, £35
    The linocut seems a strange medium in which to find what Sybil Andrews called the ‘spiritual reality’ of form; that, though, is where she sought it. Andrews (1898-1992) discovered unsuspected possibilities in this most mundane of print techniques, using it to carve her subjects – farming, sport and the Bible – with precision and rhythm, and compose with arcs and a rich but limited palette. This catalogue raisonne? reveals a graphic artist of real daring.

  • Buy these books from the RA’s Burlington Gardens shop and in our online shop here.

    Michael Peppiatt will be in conversation with Richard Cork on Saturday 12 December. Find out more.

    Michael Prodger is a Senior Research Fellow in the History of Art at the University of Buckingham.


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