Here are fifteen entertaining, informative, and highly readable art-related books that I have personally read and loved.
Christine Coulson's Metropolitan Stories: A Novel is a set of vignettes about life at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's a beautiful, whimsical poetic ode to one of the world's most significant art museums.
I just finished reading Thomas Hoving's King of the Confessors, which is about Hoving's adventures in acquiring what's now called The Cloisters Cross. Thanks to him, this English Romanesque carved ivory cross is one of the highlights of the Met Cloisters. The story is wild, and I couldn't put it down.
Here in the United States, paintings play a big role in how we experience the story of our country's origins. Portraits of our Founding Fathers and other paintings of the Revolutionary War appear on our money, in our textbooks, and decorating our government buildings. These paintings have become a huge part of our national consciousness. Paul Staiti's Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution Through Painters' Eyes is about the five American painters most responsible for depicting the Revolution era.
James Hall's The Self-Portrait: A Cultural History (London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd., 2014) is a really interesting assessment of self-portrait painting as a cultural phenomenon. It's well thought-out, researched, and written, and I greatly appreciated it.
I just finished reading a book that told a wild, but true story about a work of art. Laura Cumming's The Vanishing Velasquez: A 19th-Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece tells the story of an English bookseller who believed that he owned a lost masterpiece by Spanish artist Diego Velasquez. It ends with a huge, still-unsolved mystery.
If you enjoy the works of J.M.W. Turner (as I do) and want to know more about him, I suggest reading Franny Moyle's Turner: The Extraordinary Life & Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner (New York: Penguin Press, 2016). It's a detailed and comprehensive book about Turner's life, art, personality, and career. This post is about some of the things I learned from the book.
A few words about Victoria Finlay's Color: A Natural History of the Palette. Finlay travelled all across the world to research historical sources of color pigments. Her book is full of surprising and sometimes alarming facts.
John Singer Sargent's 1882 painting The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit is compelling and a bit mysterious. While reading Erica Hirshler's book about the painting, I learned that interpretations of the work have changed over time, and Sargent's contemporaries didn't read the same tone into it that we do.
Giorgio Vasari is considered to be the father of art history. In the mid-16th century, he wrote a set of biographies of Italy's most important artists and architects. It's been influential ever since then. A new biography of Vasari, published in 2017, takes a complete look at Vasari's life and work as both an artist and writer.