The art-book market has grown like a weed in the past 20 years.
It used to be that the only books you could find on individual artists were those Skira books from Europe, with the tipped-in color pictures that all looked like mud.But in the past few years, the genre has grown exponentially with Abrams' Cameo Great Masters, Library of American Art and Masters of Art series and Henry Holt's excellent monographs on individual artists.
A new series has been spawned by Terrail, a 6-year-old French publishing house that has been pumping out titles like popcorn from a popper. The full-size paperback volumes are reasonably inexpensive for art books, costing $24.95 each, but what makes them such a value is their contents.
Some are books on individual artists, such as their entries on Leonardo, Rodin and Alphonse Mucha; others cover whole periods or movements: "The Fauves: The Reign of Color," "The Art of Ancient Greece," "The Glory of Venice."
A few wander into more distant territory such as in "Villas and Gardens of Tuscany."
But all are filled with beautifully printed and well-selected pictures combined with text that is easy to read without seeming too generalized.
The two newest volumes are "Paris Montmartre: A Mecca of Modern Art 1860-1920" and "Picasso." They maintain the high quality of the series.
"Picasso," by Jean-Louis Ferrier, begins: "In October 1907, a short, stocky, black-haired man with piercing eyes could be seen roaming through the narrow streets of Montmartre, visibly prey to an extreme loneliness. He was an artist, a painter, and he was living the most portentous hours of his life. His name was Pablo Picasso. It would have surprised none of his contemporaries to have found him hanging from the rafters of his studio at 13, rue Ravignan - self-judged and executed by his own hand for the crime of having killed Beauty."
If somehow you had managed to be dropped down by flying saucer into the 20th century and had never heard of Picasso, this book would be a perfect introduction to the most important painter of his age.
Some other titles in the series are: "Black Africa: Masks, Sculpture, Jewelry," "The Pharaohs: Master Builders, Masters of English Landscape, Gauguin and the Nabis," "Caspar David Friedrich: The Spirit of Romantic Painting," "Kandinsky and Der Blaue Reiter" and "Modigliani."
My personal favorite is "Pompeii," which gives one of the most complete accounts of Roman painting, sculpture, architecture and mosaics that I have ever come across outside the specialist press.
With Christmas just around the corner, you might want to keep these books in mind.