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The 10 Best Art Books We Read in 2022

Love Lucian: The Letters of Lucian Freud, 1939-1954 by David Dawson and Martin Gayford, one of the best art books of 2022
Love Lucian: The Letters of Lucian Freud, 1939-1954 by David Dawson and Martin Gayford. Published by Thames & Hudson: 29 September 2022. 392 pages, 31.5 x 21.0cm, over 300 illustrations. Price £65.00 hardback, www.thamesandhudson.com

By Alice Godwin

From forgotten female artists of the past to Lucian Freud’s rollicking letters, there have been so many new titles and art coffee table books to delight art lovers this year.
Here is our roundup of the inspiring, thought-provoking, and intriguing art books and publications that became our favorite 2022 reads.

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For Artists In Their Own Words

What could be better than hearing an artist muse upon life and art…?

Portrait of Celia Paul
Portrait of Celia Paul. Credit: Penguin Random House

Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul (New York Review Books, 2022)

The ethereal painter Celia Paul reaches out through time and space to the British artist Gwen John with a series of tender letters that reveal the profound connection between two women. Both these marvelous artists’ lives have been defined by affairs with powerful older men — Paul with Lucian Freud and John with Auguste Rodin. Paul uses her letters to explore the legacy of loving Freud and the relationships with her family, as well as her creative life.

Love Lucian: The Letters of Lucian Freud (1939–1954) by David Dawson and Martin Gayford (Thames & Hudson, 2022)

Speaking of Freud, this series of letters by a young Lucian Freud before mainstream success came knocking, gives an insight into the artist’s famously impish sense of humor and irreverence. From the rebellious days of art school in East Anglia and adventures as a merchant seaman to sojourns in Paris through the 1940s, the letters paint an image of the extraordinary life that Freud led.

For Art Critics In The Making

Gain insight into the art world from the most exciting critics writing today…

Katy Hessel, whose publication is one of the best 2022 art books
Portrait of Katy Hessel. Photographer: Luke Fullalove

The Story of Art without Men by Katy Hessel (Penguin, 2022)

Katy Hessel takes a swing at the art world’s definitive bible, E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art with a retelling of art history focused on women. Hessel’s ascent to artworld fame began in 2015 with the Instagram account @thegreatwomenartists and has since blossomed into an acclaimed podcast and now publication. With Hessel’s infectious joy, at its peak on the subject of painting, it’s hard not to feel galvanized by this ambitious reappraisal.

Art is Life: Icons and Iconoclasts, Visionaries and Vigilantes, and Flashes of Hope in the Night by Jerry Saltz (Riverhead Books, 2022)

Senior art critic for New York Magazine Jerry Saltz prides himself on saying it how it is. The failed artist turned long-haul truck driver only started writing in his forties, but his frank, fearless, and openhearted voice earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 2018. The book brings together two decades of his writing, through the tumultuous years of 9/11, Obama, and Trump in America, all with Saltz’s typically wry brand of humor and get-up-and-go attitude.

For Young Art Lovers

Inspire budding artists and art critics with these art books for kids…

The Women Who Changed Art Forever: Feminist Art – The Graphic Novel by Valentina Grande and Eva Rossetti, one of the best art books we read in 2022
The Women Who Changed Art Forever: Feminist Art – The Graphic Novel by Valentina Grande and Eva Rossetti, Laurence King Publishing, 2021. Image provided by Orion Books

The Women Who Changed Art Forever: Feminist Art – The Graphic Novel by Valentina Grande and Eva Rossetti (Laurence King Publishing, 2021)

This graphic novel introduces young readers to four trailblazers of feminist art: Judy Chicago, who made the iconic installation The Dinner Party, with place settings named after famous women; Faith Ringgold, known for her woven narratives on racial and gender equality; the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, who used her body in nature; and the anonymous Guerilla Girls who have held the art world to account over the lack of female representation.

Black Artists Shaping the World by Sharna Jackson and Zoé Whitley (Thames & Hudson, 2021)

Children’s author Sharna Jackson and Director of London’s Chisenhale Gallery, Zoé Whitley, who curated the magnificent Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power exhibition, combine forces in this celebration of Black artists for young readers. From Kerry James Marshall and Amy Sherald to Lubaina Himid and Chris Ofili, the book focuses on twenty-six artists from Africa and the African diaspora.

For Art History Lovers

Lose yourself in these exquisitely researched books…

The Real and the Romantic: English Art Between Two World Wars by Frances Spalding, one of the best  2022 art books
The Real and the Romantic: English Art Between Two World Wars by Frances Spalding. Published by Thames & Hudson: 26 May 2022. 147 illustrations, £35.00 hardback, www.thamesandhudson.com

The Real and the Romantic: English Art Between Two World Wars ​By Frances Spalding (Thames & Hudson, 2022)

Art historian Frances Spalding turns her attention to the tumultuous era between the world wars in England. The angular vistas of Paul Nash and idyllic meadows of Stanley Spencer speak to the importance of the landscape as a symbol of trauma and rejuvenation. Spalding examines the period through the framework of the ‘real’ and the ‘romantic,’ charting the road to recovery after World War I, the surge of new ideas and the pull of the past, and the shadow of another war.

A Life of Picasso Volume IV: The Minotaur Years: 1933–1943 by John Richardson (Knopf, 2021)

The much anticipated fourth volume of John Richardson’s biography of Pablo Picasso is finally here, centered upon the artist’s mythological alter ego – the half-bull, half-man Minotaur. The third volume left off with the collapse of Picasso’s marriage to Olga Khokhlova, and takes up here with the blossoming love affair with Surrealist photographer Dora Maar, the rise of fascism in Europe, and life in occupied Paris. Sadly, Richardson passed away before he could complete this herculean project, but this series of biographies is undoubtedly one of the finest on Picasso.

For Fashion Lovers

Be swept away by the best fashion books of the year…

Wonderland by Annie Leibovitz
Wonderland by Annie Leibovitz. Phaidon, 2021

Wonderland by Annie Leibovitz (Phaidon, 2021)

Annie Leibovitz first tumbled into the wonderland of fashion in the late 1990s, when she covered the Paris couture shows for Vogue at the behest of Anna Wintour, shooting Kate Moss and Puff Daddy. This anthology of fashion photographs charts Leibovitz’s magical journey through the world of fashion that is little known, from images of Serena Williams and Cate Blanchett to RuPaul and Nancy Pelosi.

Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech (DelMonico Books, 2022)

When Virgil Abloh, artistic director of Louis Vuitton and founder of the fashion label Off-White, passed away in 2021, there was a tremendous outpouring of grief from the worlds of fashion and art. This catalog accompanies the acclaimed exhibition of the same name that has traveled from Chicago to Doha to New York and attests to Abloh’s ability to combine the classic with the zeitgeist of the here and now.

Relevant sources to learn more

The Storytellers’ Stories: The Best Documentaries About Artists
10 Books Illustrated by Great Artists
Lost in the Stacks: Art Bookstores Around the World

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