Kandinsky
Edited by Helmut Friedel and Annegret Hoberg
Prestel £99, 320 pages
My art book of the year: a giant, lavish, boxed extravaganza offering the most complete overview yet of the pioneering Russian painter. Fresh archive material and photographs complement top-quality illustrations. Kandinsky’s dissolving forms of brilliant colour are exquisitely reproduced, illuminating him as, among other things, a great romantic.

Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia’s Silver Age
By John E. Bowlt
Thames & Hudson £24.95, 396 pages
Billionaire collectors, post-glasnost revisions of history and ambitious young artists all make Russia an intoxicating force in today’s global culture. This account of renaissance and revolution – from Akhmatova and Diaghilev to Malevich and Stravinsky – during the twilight of the tsarist empire is sumptuous, unforgettable and revelatory.

Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to ‘In Search of Lost Time’
By Eric Karpeles
Thames & Hudson £25, 352 pages
Proust’s writing teems with references to paintings: here each has a full-page illustration alongside the relevant text, from Vermeer’s “View of Delft” (“Little patch of yellow wall …”) to fin de siècle society portraits. This has been at my bedside for weeks; it will thrill any Proust lover.

The Macclesfield Psalter
Edited by Stella Panayotova
Thames & Hudson £49.95, 352 pages
Dating from 1335 but undiscovered until 2004, the Macclesfield Psalter is a jewel of manuscript painting. Here it is reproduced in its entirety, giving an intimate, immediate view of medieval beliefs, aspirations and follies, through the cast of doctors, priests, minstrels, farmers and beggars mingling on its margins.

Francis Bacon: Studies for a Portrait
By Michael Peppiatt
Yale £18.99, 272 pages
Next year is the centenary of Francis Bacon’s birth; these compelling, witty, wise interviews, anecdotes, and essays by his biographer and close friend are essential reading for anyone interested in postwar painting.

Cézanne’s Watercolors: Between Drawing and Painting
By Matthew Simms
Yale £30, 256 pages
At the great bicentennial Cézanne exhibitions in France and America in 2006, the watercolours astonished for their ravishing expressiveness and spontaneity. Matthew Simms explores the dialogue between drawing and painting – the movement between pencil and paintbrush – that attracted Cézanne to the medium, in a lovely volume including reproductions of many rare works.

Dead Souls
By Nikolai Gogol, illustrated by Marc Chagall
Translated by Donald Rayfield
Garnett Press £29.99, 366 pages
A heavenly marriage between writer and illustrator. Gogol wrote Dead Souls in 1842; Chagall’s illustrations of 1923 announced a graphic artist of genius. Working in exile, both Russians looked at their country with mesmerised despair and a fabulous, playful, energetic tragic-comic vision.

Walk to the Moon: The Story of Albert Houthuesen
By Richard Nathanson
The Putney Press £25, 256 pages
Houthuesen was a Dutch-English modernist whose life story forms one of the most sensational, offbeat, affecting artist’s biographies I have encountered. Told mostly in his own words, it is illustrated with his strange religious paintings, portraits – especially the sombre but high-colour clowns – and landscapes.

Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur
By Debra Diamond and Catherine Glynn
Thames & Hudson £36, 352 pages
Sensuous, idyllic landscapes, shimmering court scenes and magical, epic manuscript paintings from 17th- and 18th-century northern India unravel in a fascinating study of an aesthetic world little-known in the west. The originals of these precious works visit the British Museum next year.

Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons
Edited by Nicholas Serota
Tate £24.99, 272 pages
The catalogue to the most persuasive exhibition of a contemporary artist at Tate in recent years is a joy, both as visual seduction – the pared-down, archaic-looking sculptures as well as the lush paintings – and for the rigour and intelligence of the essays and interviews.

Lewis Carroll
By Anne Higonnet
Phaidon £19.95, 128 pages
Was Lewis Carroll the photographer, pervert, sentimentalist or documenter of a uniquely Victorian sensibility? This elegant book, produced and designed like a Victorian album, argues convincingly that he was one of the greatest photographers of children ever.

The Railway: Art in the Age of Steam
By Ian Kennedy and Julian Treuherz
Yale £35, 287 pages
A train buff’s volume, but a beautiful, surprising, globally far-ranging one, taking in Mexican photography and Monet, Soviet posters and Victorian realism, and a rush of social and technological history.

The Dog: 5000 Years of the Dog in Art
By Tamsin Pickeral
Merrell £29.95, 288 pages
Absurd, superb, this richly illustrated and impeccably designed narrative stretches from Egyptian sarcophagi and “Cave Canem” Roman mosaics to Franz Marc’s harmonious zoos and Lucien Freud’s whippets, with art history triumphing over sentiment.

Jackie Wullschlager is the FT’s art critic. Her book, ‘Chagall: Love and Exile’, (Allen Lane) has been shortlisted for the 2008 Costa Biography Award.

Get alerts on World when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article