I discovered this book in Dulwich Art Gallery bookshop. As soon as I picked it up and held this large book in my hands I was hooked. I had to own a copy. Here were two of my favourite things, art and storytelling woven together by Kate Evans’ beautiful illustrations.
Michael Bird explains in the preface which is entitled ‘part of the magic.’
‘I wanted to tell the history of art through a series of stories. A story, even if you’ve heard it before, takes place in the here-and–now of the imagination.’
The book covers the history of art from 40,000 BC to 2014. It tells the story chronologically and is clearly laid out under headings with intriguing titles such as ‘great ambitions’ (1425-1550), ‘seeing it differently’ (1860-1900) and ‘Where It’s At’ (1950 -2014).
The range of artists covered is diverse ranging from African artists to Ai Weiwei, Monet to Muybridge to Varvara Stepanova to Ibn al-Bawwab. The book is clearly laid out and easy to navigate making it perfect to dip into. There is a glossary, a list of artworks and where to find them. There are double page maps to give you a sense of place such as New York in the 1950’s or Amsterdam in the 1600’s.
The stories have beguiling titles such as ‘The Night is Young’ (Titian), ‘Pebbles and Bombs’ (Henty Moore) and ‘Bottletop Magic’ (El Anatsui). The stories are told with warmth, humour and they reveal Michael’s vast knowledge of art history with a light but powerful touch.
Kate Evans’ watercolour illustrations have a softness and warmth that unifies the book. The subtle palette of colours that she uses throughout complement both the stories and the vast range of art works.
This book is a keeper. It is perfect for a school library or classroom or presented as a gift to treasure. The stories would also make good bedtime reading.
As Michael says, ‘I never want art to lose its strangeness. It is part of the magic.’
Laurence King Publishing
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