I love apps like Pinterest and ArtStack that allow you to collect, curate and share your favourite images with fellow enthusiasts. But for those (increasingly rare) moments when you’re not within reach of a wi-fi signal, nothing beats the old-fashioned pleasure of ink on paper. That’s why I still value my small selection of volumes from the aptly titled Little Library of Art.
As far as I can tell, the Methuen Little Library of Art series began in 1956, with Van Gogh Arles–Saint Remy, and eventually ran to more than 90 volumes. The latest book I own, Modern Painting II Gauguin to the Fauves, was No. 74, published in 1965.
As you can see from the glue residue on the covers, these slim paperbacks (size around 6″x4″) were priced at a modest 2/6. I picked them up for about 50p each in a second-hand bookshop in Shrewsbury 20 years ago.
My copy of Manet 1858-1871 is a French edition, and it bears the imprint of Fernand Hazan, the original publishers of the series. From my limited samples, it looks as though the series authors were mainly French or German art historians.
These books pre-date the era when paintings by the impressionists and post-impressionists started to attract crazy prizes at auction. I was struck by the fact that the cover of the Van Gogh book features an 1888 portrait The Schoolboy (Camille Roulin), rather than one of the many versions of Sunflowers.
Around the mid-50s, the Fontana Pocket Library of Great Art was also busy churning out titles for those who liked art books but didn’t have much space on their coffee table. The format here was slightly larger and more upmarket – cover flaps and gatefold illustrations that allowed you to see more of the pictures. They cost 4s each. I have a lot more of these, including works on the usual suspects – Matisse, Picasso and Cézanne.