25 November 2012

The Complete Etchings of Rembrandt Reproduced in Original Size

Dover books are great. I will cover my (few) Doré books from Dover in a future post, but for now, let's look at my latest reason to love Dover books. In my opinion, all books should start with a chapter titled "A note on this book". It's like this book was written for me. As the title suggests, this book contains all known etchings by Rebrandt, and reproduced in original size, too. Since there are quite a few of these etchings, there are several different cataloguing systems for them, and the most widely used one, the Bartsch system, has both pros and cons, and all this is explained in the introductory note, as well as some notes on how the book itself is organized. After this, there is a chronology of Rembrandt's life, a short introduction to how etching was done during Rembrandt's time, and a note on the literature of his etchings. So that's the text done with, next come the pictures!

There's somewhere between 300 and 400 etchings, but I don't know the exact number. They are numbered, but a number of etchings in the Bartsch system have later been discovered not to be by Rembrandt, so they are not included in this book, making holes in the numbering. Also, on some of the plates there are actually several pictures, but since they were all done on the same etching plate, they have just one Bartsch number. And finally, I can't be bothered to actually count them. The etchings are sorted into categories. Again, we have Mr. Bartsch to thank for this, and this means they aren't in chronological order. Every plate is accompanied with a text stating its Bartsch number, title, state of impression, dating, etc. The quality is very nice, since all the etchings are reproduced from the actual etchings, except for six, that are reproduced from photographs. In addition, 15 etchings are so large that they didn't fit in the book. These are printed in reduced version inside the book, and in original size in the folded sheets found in an envelope in the back of the book. They're printed on both side of the sheets, but in such a way that you can cut them out withouth destroying one side, if you want.

Many of the etchings, especially his self portraits, are surpisingly small. There are a number of sketches and studies of peasants and beggars that are really little more than what you'd find scrawled in a sketchbook, and the fact that they're etchings is very interesting. Did he take his etching plate out for a sketch day? The book doesn't offer a lot of info on what the etchings were for, except for a few that were obviously commissioned portraits.

This is a book that you can flip through many times and still find something new to look at. Rembrandt's skill is unquestionable. The amount of fine detail and modeling is amazing. The variety is also astounding, from intimate portraits to genre pieces, to epic history compositions. From scratchy sketches all the way to fully modeled pictures. When I think of Rembrandt I usually think about brush work and impasto, but this book really drives home the point of Rembrandt as a picture maker. Nearly 400 pictures, and every one of them a master composition.

But the etchings are obviously amazing, it is Rembrandt we're talking about after all. What I really want to stress is that this is a really great book, for a great price. I do have one criticism, though. When a book spends so much time in the beginning talking about how important it is to get the reproductions directly from the prints themselves, and print them on the right paper, and in the right size, you expect the print job to be top notch. And for the vast majority of the book it is, the pictures are very clear and clean. But on a few pages it seems like they were running out of ink, both the text and the pictures are a lighter shade of gray, instead of black. I assume that's not something to happens to every individual book in a print run, so it might just be me that got unlucky with my copy. But it's a bit disappointing, even if it's not actaully that bad in the end.

But some gray pages aside, this is still a book definitely worth getting. The amount of great pictures you get for the price you pay is, as is usual with Dover books, high.

The Complete Etchings of Rembrandt
Reproduced in Original Size
Soft Cover, over 200 pages
Paper quality is a glossy, but quite thin paper
ISBN-13: 978-0-486-28181-0
ISBN-10: 0-486-28181-7

17 October 2012

The Art of Lord Leighton by Christopher Newall

This, like the Holbein book, is one of the few art books on my shelf that I've actually read the text in from cover to cover. This book is more than just a biography; Christopher Newall doesn't just recount the events of Frederick Leighton's life, but also offers a critical view of his work. Sometimes so critical that I almost start wondering if Mr. Newall likes Leighton at all! But it is a very interesting text, and I find myself wishing that more biographies were written in this way, trying to evaluate the work of an artist, instead of being too respectful to say anything but good things about him.

The quality of the book is very good, and so far it's survived many, many flips through its pages. The reproductions are very nice, often large or full page. The book does commit the crime of printing some paintings over a spread, but the binding is so nice that the gutter isn't that big of a problem, and the payoff of the larger image is worth it. Especially worth it since many of Leighton's paintings have a very wide format and feature dozens of figures and lots of juicy details. This of course means that these pictures lend themselves well to gutter-printing, unlike a certain painting by Repin. If you are going to print something over a gutter, take some tips from this book, since they do it so well even I can justify it! Some paintings are reproduced in black and white, mostly drawings and sculptures, but also some paintings that they apparently weren't able to get new reproductions of.

What I really like about Leighton's work is its decorative qualities, which is certainly something that Leighton and the aesthetic movement were pushing. I love the idea that nothing you include in your painting is there by accident, and that if you're going to draw something, you might as well make the effort to make it beautiful. Not all art should be this way, but when the world seems gray and hard, let Lord Leighton transport you to worlds of colour and beauty! I definitely recommend this book.

The Art of Lord Leighton
Christopher Newall
Soft Cover, 144 pages
paper quality is a nice, thick, glossy kind of paper
ISBN: 0-7148-2957-9

10 July 2012

Tolkien's World - Paintings of Middle-earth

EDIT: BTW, if you open the images of these posts in new tabs, you will be able to see them full-size.

This book actually is my first art book. I don't even remember if somebody gave it to me or if I bought it myself. I read The Lord of the Rings before the films were made, and since this book was at that point the only visual reference for anything LOTR, it heavily influenced my idea of how things looked. For example, Legolas very definitely had dark hair, because there's one portrait of him with dark hair in this book. This was before I became serious about art, even before I was aware of art or illustration as concepts. In fact, I remember this being one of the things (along with Dinotopia) that made me realise that art was actually made by people. I even remember realising that I liked the art of some of these people better than others. I had met my first art hero, John Howe.

But enough remembering, how does this book measure as an art book, when I look at it today? It opens with a one-page biography on Tolkien, which is nice, then launches into the main part, which contains 60 paintings by various artists (namely: Ted Nasmith, Alan Lee, John Howe, Michael Hague, Robert Goldsmith, Roger Garland, Tony Galuidi, Carol Emery Phenix, and Inger Edelfeldt). The pictures follow a rough chronology beginning with The Hobbit, going on through the Lord of The Rings, and finishing with The Silmarillion and other books. Annoyingly enough, a few of the pictures are just out of order, like how the (amazing) Ted Nasmith painting of Gandalf facing off with the Balrog comes after the Roger Garland one, depicting the fallen Balrog's whip grabbing hold of Gandalf. I mean, how hard can it be to get that right?

On each spread, the picture is on the right page, and on the left is a passage of text that that image illustrates. This leads to another thing that annoys me. Most of the texts are appropriate, but some describe the scene right before or right after the moment the painting depicts, and some are just way off. Like how the John Howe painting of some orcs that clearly have the eye of Sauron on their helmets is accompanies by a bit of dialogue that is spoken by Saruman's Uruk-Hai, debating what to do with the captured Hobbits. Anonymous editor, you had ONE JOB.

To point these problems out is geeky and petty, and in general, the quality of this book is high. One larger problem though, that I see in too many art books, is the reluctance to flip horizontal paintings on their side so that larger pictures could fit on the page. If a person buys a book full of art, he does it for the pictures, not because he's looking for something that minimizes the risk of having to use his arms a little. The only thing worse is when they make the painting occupy both pages of a spread, with the focal point in the gutter. (On a side note, I once saw a book with Repin's Ivan the Terrible and His Son with the people RIGHT in the gutter. If you click on that link, you will see that the entire rest of the painting is background). Thankfully, because of the text/image format of Tolkien's World, this is not a problem.

Since I just spent three paragraphs complaining, I would like to point out again that I like this book very much. The reproductions are good and the layout is nice. It was first published in 1992, so most of the paintings are from the 80s, which was really the golden age for the Tolkien Calendar. It's probably not the most complete anthology of Tolkien art out there (if you know of a better one, please tell me about it in the comments!), but it's still a very nice collection of art in many different styles, and it introduced me to a lot of very good artists at a point when I didn't even really know that fantasy art existed as a genre.

Tolkien's World
Paintings of Middle-earth
Harper Collins
Soft Cover, about 70-80 pages
ISBN: 0-261-10307-5

16 June 2012

Masters of German Art: Hans Holbein by Stephanie Buck

This is a very nice book, both because it has many large, high quality pictures, and because it's a very interesting read. It chronicles Holbein's life from his formative years to his death, as you would expect of any biography. There's also a number of short essays on related subjects like printing, the reformation, and Henry VIII, spread here and there in the book. It's not exactly oversized, but it's still a good sized book - I only wish it were a bit thicker.

As I already mentioned, the images are top notch. I sadly haven't seen any of the paintings in the flesh, so I can't vouch for how faithful the reproductions are in terms of colour or value contrast. But they are all obviously proffessional level photography, clear, sharp pictures that often fill the whole page, sometimes even with full bleed details. Aside from Holbein's paintings and drawings, there are also art by related artist and pictures illustrating the time period.

All in all a very nice biography books with lots of pictures in it. Well worth it if you're a Holbein fan!

Masters of German Art - Hans Holbein
Stephanie Buck
Hard cover with dust jacket, 140 pages
paper quality is the kind of nice glossy paper you'd expect in a full colour art book.
ISBN: 3-8290-2583-1

PS: this portrait is just too good.

15 June 2012

Drawing Lessons From The Great Masters by Robert Beverly Hale

My first review will not be about my first art book. But it's certainly one of the best. My art books generally fall into two categories. The first is books that I read once, and then when I open it again it's just for the pictures. The second is books that doesn't have very fascinating text, and that I only use for the pictures. Drawing Lessons From the Great Masters by Robert Beverly Hale belongs to neither of those categories. This is a book that I've read two times cover to cover, and many, many times a bit here and there. It's a great book, and everyone interested in drawing, realistic or otherwise, should have it.

You know a book is serious when it has foreword, preface, and introduction. The version I have is the 45th anniversary edition, so it has a foreword by Jacob Collins, which is nice. Another thing that is nice is that while there is quite a bit of text in this book, it's divided into very manageable chunks, with lots of gorgeous pictures in between. The different chapters deal with different very basic principles of drawing like Line, Planes, Mass, et cetera. Every chapter begins with a few pages of solid text explaining the principle in question, and then several images illustrating that concept. All the images are printed as large as can fit the page, and on the left side is a miniature version of the drawing and text pointing out how the artist has used a certain principle in the drawing, with the points marked on the miniature.

The real strenght of this book is that while the concepts covered could be considered the basics of drawing, they're really, really important basics, and explained so clearly. One of the ideas that really resonated with me is how you can use primitive forms, like spheres, eggs, blocks, to inform your drawing and shading of a figure. This is something Hale stresses again and again. Some of the concepts can feel a bit dogmatic, like how Hale goes on about how any experienced artist always knows to delete cast shadows because they destroy the form. But even this idea is very well illustrated by the plates, and you soon realize that many of these artists actually were very aware of when a cast shadow confuses a form, and when it enhances it.

The drawings featured in this book is mostly from the renaissance and the baroque, with a few 19th century artists, the latest of which is probably Degas. The reproductions are all grayscale, even if the original drawing was done in red chalk on toned paper. This isn't such a big problem however, the reproductions are still of a very high quality.

There is also a sequel called Anatomy Lessons From the Great Masters, and I've heard that it is inferior to this book. However, I haven't read it myself, so I couldn't really tell. If anyone has it, please chime in!

Drawing Lessons From the Great Masters
Robert Beverly Hale
Soft Cover, 271 pages
paper quality is a nice non-glossy paper ideal for making notes on, if you're so inclined.
ISBN-13: 978-0-8230-1401-9
ISBN-10: 0-8230-1401-0

14 June 2012


Welcome to this blog! This first post is my introduction and mission statement.

As an art student, consumer of images and connoisseur of paintings, my small but growing collection of art related books is very important to me. Every time I go to a museum or specialist book shop, I look for new additions to my bookshelf. Shopping for books this way is easy. You pick up a book, flip through it to get an idea of its quality, and make a decision. However, shopping for art books online can be a bit trickier. Sometimes you get a few images from inside the book, but often you have no way of knowing how good it is except for the cover, and perhaps a few short reviews. This is a problem, because when it comes to art books, there are some really good ones, and then there are some really bad ones. Some books have really bad reproductions, some have really small pictures, and some don't have many pictures at all. And to me, it's important to know this before buying.

My idea with this blog is to write reviews of the books I own, focusing on how good they are from an artist's or art student's point of view, for the benefit of the indecisive buyer. I currently have a little over 60 books on my shelf that I categorize as art books. These include biographies, anthologies, art instructions books, books centered on certain themes or time periods, as well as different reference books that aren't specifically related to art, but that I still count as important to my proffession. I plan on providing plenty of pictures so that readers can form a good understanding of the size and feel of the books. I will probably not take very large or good pictures of the images contained within the books out of respect for the copyright holders. I might, however, link to paintings hosted somewhere else on the web, if there's a painting that is especially worthy of showing.

I hope this blog will be a useful resource for people looking to expand their libraries. I invite all readers to give their own opinions and tips in the comments. Sixty books isn't a lot, and I know I'm always interested in book recommendations!

Oh, and one last thing. I won't post links to where you can buy the books. The reason for this is that Amazon, while a great place for finding books, doesn't always offer the best price. Often there are differences in prices even between the US and UK versions of the site. Sometimes you can find a copy cheapest there, sometimes not. Sometimes the author of a book sells it directly from his or her own website. And since I've already bought these books, I'm not interested in hunting down the best price for them, neither do I want to direct you to a bad deal. So if you want a book, shop around for a bit. It'll be worth it.