By: John Dorfman
Books are among the most inexhaustible of presents; long after the New Year they remain to give pleasure till next December and beyond. That is especially true of art books, and Art & Antiques’ editors have picked some choice volumes to delight and inform the collector and curious reader.
Cutting photographs apart and making collages from them is an art form associated with the Surrealists, but the Victorians did it first, as Elizabeth Siegel shows inPlaying With Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale, $45). While the Surrealists rearranged images to be self-consciously subversive, their 19th-century English predecessors did it mainly for fun. This lavishly illustrated book contains numerous examples, many of which share an Alice-in-Wonderland zaniness that evidently provided a counterbalance to the era’s outward stuffiness.
Self-conscious modernists are the cast of characters of a new collective biography,The Bauhaus Group (Knopf, $40), by Nicholas Fox Weber. In time for the 90th anniversary of the founding of the seminal art, architecture and design academy, Weber, the director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, combines colorful stories with reflection on why the Bauhaus’ influence remains vital today.
Former NBC correspondent Roger Kennedy and designer David Larkin have created a massive documentary in book form, When Art Worked: The New Deal, Art and Democracy (Rizzoli, $75). During the Depression, the government called upon artists to “do their part” to both document the situation and inspire the population. From WPA murals to American Scene paintings to gritty photography, this book has it all; the only unfortunate thing being that the image quality is not always as high as could be wished for.
From a Victorian poster of a stage magician in a devil suit fighting off snakes with a sword to trick photographs of young women floating in midair over a stage to a Russian modernist image of a prestidigitator appearing out of nowhere, Magic: 1400s–1950s (Taschen, $200) showcases the vibrant popular art created to advertise and document stage magic. The editor of this heavy, folio-sized book, Noel Daniel, has spared no effort to bring these creative pieces of ephemera back to life, and their reproductions of rare and long-forgotten posters have to be seen to be believed.
Everyone knows Vigée-Lebrun, but few are aware that there was another highly accomplished woman painter active in late 18th-century France. In Adélaïde Labille-Guiard: Artist in the Age of Revolution (Getty, $29.95), art historian Laura Auricchio reveals the extent of Labille-Guiard’s accomplishments, especially as a portraitist, and the illustrations make the case for anyone to see. As Auricchio explains, politics had a lot to do with the eventual eclipse of Labille-Guiard’s reputation. During the Revolution she cast her lot with neither party, which helped her to survive but caused her to fall between the cracks of history. This book, the first in English on its subject, restores her to her proper place.
Politics and Old Masters also mix in Mark Lamster’s Master of Shadows (Nan Talese, $29.95). Lamster, a journalist, raises the curtain on Peter Paul Rubens’ little-known diplomatic career. At the turn of the 17th century, the Catholic painter of voluptuous nudes entered the chiaroscuro world of diplomacy on behalf of Spain, which was at war with Holland. His hope for world peace was not fulfilled, but he was knighted by King Charles I.
Some say we’re not living in a great age of painting, but Tony Godfrey begs to differ. His Painting Today (Phaidon, $75), a heavy and beautifully printed volume, showcases painting of the past 30 years to shed light on why painting continues to thrive in the face of invasions from photography, film, video and other new media. Organized thematically, Painting Today contains hundred of large-scale reproductions of paintings, from Photorealism to portraiture to the Leipzig School.
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