Picture Books of the Year: John Singer Sargent, Rex Whistler and Peter Campbell

Paul Johnson and John Lanchester chose the year's best picture books.

New Statesman
A painting by Peter Campbell, resident designer and critic for the London Review of Books (IMAGE: LROB and Profile Books)

Paul Johnson

John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes 1900-1907

(The Brook, John Singer Sargent, 1907. IMAGE: Yale Press)

(The Mountains of Moab, John Singer Sargent, 1905. Image: Tate Modern)

This image is taken from the most significant art book of the year, John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1900-1907, by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray (Yale University Press, £50). It reveals an important new aspect of Sargent’s art: his work as an innovative landscape painter, especially during his trip to Palestine and Syrian in 1905-1906. His painting The Mountains of Moab, from that winter, now in the Tate, is the finest landscape created in the first quarter of the 20th century.

 

In Search of Rex Whistler

(Self Portrait, Rex Whistler, 1933. IMAGE: Tate Modern)

One of the most poignant losses suffered by English art in the Second World War was the death of Rex Whistler in the Normandy campaign of 1944. In Search of Rex Whistler by Hugh and Mirabel Cecil (Frances Lincoln, £40) is a beautiful commemorative volume that brings out his talents as a muralist, illustrator and portrait painter and underlies the tragedy. Either of these splendid volumes would make a fine Christmas present.

 

John Lanchester

Artwork, by Peter Campbell

(IMAGE: Profile Books and the London Review of Books)

This image is taken from Artwork by Peter Campbell (Profile Books, £30). The only thing wrong with this collection of Campbell’s paintings and covers for the London Review of Books is that this beautiful book is coming out now, a year after Peter’s death, rather than when he would have been able to take pleasure from the amount of pleasure his work was giving.

Along with At...: Writing, Mainly about Art, from the London Review of Books (Hyphen Press, £20), which came out three years ago, it makes a substantial monument to a man who didn’t think in terms of leaving monuments and who is still keenly missed by everyone lucky enough to have known him.