Our pick of art books for Christmas

Published 13 November 2014

Your essential festive gift guide.

  • Handing your loved one a wrapped-up rectangle over Christmas lunch is always a noble gesture, and even more so if the book inside is one of the winter’s best works on art or architecture.

    From coffee-table tomes and artist monographs to fun how-to guides for both children and adults, some of this season’s best stocking-fillers are here reviewed by the RA Magazine team.

    • Cover of 'Eduardo Paolozzi'

      Eduardo Paolozzi

      By Judith Collins
      Lund Humphries, £55

      If you don’t own an artwork by Eduardo Paolozzi RA (1924-2005), then this beautiful monograph is the next best thing. Written by Judith Collins, a fellow alumnus from Edinburgh College of Art and friend of Paolozzi’s, this book gives us a rare insight into his life. With over 300 colourful pages, this generously illustrated book covers Paolozzi across the panoply of media he worked in throughout his career, helpfully including a chapter on each of these artistic ventures: collage, sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, tapestry and film. A highlight for me is the section on his highly original, collage-based silkscreen prints – among the finest examples of Pop art and made in the 1960s, one of the most intensively creative periods in Paolozzi’s career. Jane Grylls

    • Cover of 'Rendez-Vous with Art'

      Rendez-vous with Art

      By Philippe de Montebello and Martin Gayford
      Thames & Hudson, £19.95

      There are few more cultured companions one could wish for than Philippe de Montebello, the Parisian-born Harvard-trained aristocrat-art historian who for over 30 years directed New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. So it’s very enjoyable to step into the shoes of Martin Gayford for 250 pages, as the British critic accompanies De Montebello around the globe’s greatest galleries, museums and churches, beginning and ending with Egyptian fragments at the Met and in between looking anew and intently at our greatest works of art, from Giotto’s frescoes in Florence to Poussin’s paintings in the Louvre. Gayford’s descriptions of their aesthetic adventures are interspersed with transcripts of their conversations, so that you feel both their erudite voices in your ears. Sam Phillips

    • Cover of 'Velazquez'

      Velázquez: Complete Works

      By José López-Rey and Odile Delenda
      Taschen, £99.99

      A welcome revised edition to the previous 1996 version, Taschen’s catalogue raisonné documents the Spanish painter’s entire life, from birth to death via his years as the preeminent court painter for King Philip IV. It throws light on new findings, attributions and restorations, while masterfully rendered faces of the Spanish Golden Age stare at the reader from opposing pages. With the naturally academic territory comes a little dryness, but not without good reason, and the generously sized reproductions make a trip to the Prado no longer seem necessary. Suffragette Mary Richardson slashed Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus (1647-51) at London’s National Gallery in 1914, so it is apt that exactly 100 years later this book reincarnates the artist’s superb virtuosity. Eleanor Mills

    • Cover of '100 Buildings 100 Years'

      Cover of '100 Buildings 100 Years'

      100 Buildings, 100 Years

      Edited by Susannah Charlton with Elain Harwood
      Twentieth Century Society/Batsford, £25

      These aren’t necessarily the ‘best’ buildings of the last 100 years – or indeed the most beautiful, or surely Vauxhall Bus Station wouldn’t have got a look in. But it’s the range of this rag-tag bunch that’s so lovely to flip through, and, chosen by supporters of the Twentieth Century Society, whose remit is to safeguard the heritage of modern British architecture and design, the selection reminds us about the great buildings we have on our doorstep. Published in conjunction with a display at the RA’s Architecture Space, and listing one building for each year from 1914 onwards, the book give us favourites like Battersea Power Station alongside dismissed milestones like Blackheath’s Hallgate housing estate. Beautiful or not – and many of them are stunning – this collection of buildings offers an unbeatable grounding in Britain’s architectural history. Louise Cohen

    • Phaidon's 'Art in Time'

      Art in Time: A World History of Styles and Movements

      Phaidon, £45

      This beautifully produced book could easily have been a somewhat dry compendium of isms, but instead it’s an absorbing and enlightening gallop through art from the fifth century BC to the present day. Most movements or styles are covered with great economy on a double page spread – a short text and a timeline marking key events in history, technological breakthroughs and other notable events on the left, and a selection of images on the right. It’s not the usual chronology of classical Greek art to postmodernism by way of the Renaissance and the avant-garde, though, as the book includes non-Western traditions and movements. The Renaissance section, for example, includes the usual suspects (Italian and Northern Renaissance, Mannerism) alongside Japan’s Kan? School and the Ming dynasty Wu School. The careful balance of digestible chunks of information with beautiful images makes this equally rewarding as a dip-into coffee table book or a cover-to-cover read. Amy Macpherson

    • Cover of 'Art Rules'

      Art Rules! (And How to Break Them)

      By Mel Gooding
      Redstone Press, £19.95

      This engaging and fun book-object artfully puts the box in Boxing Day. It contains a set of instructive cards that offer dozens of practical ways of making art – collage, photo art, Surrealist games, found objects – as a tool to learn about modern and contemporary art history. While many ‘how-to’ art books are aimed at would-be artists, Art Rules! is for art lovers who relish learning from doing. Mel Gooding transforms art appreciation from an act of consumption into a creative act of production, whether it’s making photograms by moonlight in the manner of Susan Derges or collaging à la Matisse. Gill Crabbe

    • Cover of 'Draw Paint Print like the Great Artists'

      Draw, Paint, Print like the Great Artists

      By Marion Deuchars
      Laurence King, £12.95

      Marion Deuchars has chosen 18 of her favourite figures – including Matisse and Klee but also an Aboriginal artist Emily Kngwarreye and an Indian artist Jivya Soma Mashe – to put together this fun book that explores different artists’ techniques. It is gloriously simple and my children loved it. The youngest, who is 9, loved the varied techniques to try out on the page, experimenting with colour, texture and shape. My eldest, 13, was intrigued that art could be so diverse and that artists over the years have used so many different methods to make their art. I found out about the way that Andy Warhol made his illustrations by simply drawing on a non-absorbent sheet and pressing the wet ink into an absorbent sheet. I tried it; it works. Magic. Nick Tite

    • Cover of 'In Montmartre'

      In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art

      By Sue Roe
      Fig Tree, £20

      The idea of early 20th-century Paris as a hotbed of artistic revolution might sound glamorous and exciting, but Sue Roe’s book does an excellent job of putting this into context – shedding light on the peculiar alchemy of hard slog, genius and happenstance that allowed these future giants of art to find their feet. She captures the fizz and excitement of a bohemian demi monde alive with possibility, the gritty boîtes and the cancan girls, the flourishing of fashion and graphic design alongside art and music, but also the sheer grinding poverty faced by Picasso and his peers in those early years. A semi-rural village at the time, Montmartre drew Picasso and Matisse, Ballet Russes impresario Sergei Diaghilev, Gertrude Stein, Modigliani and other future luminaries into its seedy orbit. Roe manages to weave multiple life stories together with a strong sense of place and time while constantly skimming along, her narrative almost breathless with the pace of innovation and artistic discovery. Amy Macpherson