Must-read art books for winter

  • 14 November 2014

Intimate photos of Lucian Freud, kaleidoscopic dolls' houses and Grayson Perry's art manifesto – if you're seeking a compelling winter read, look no further.

1. Playing to the Gallery
Grayson Perry. Particular Books, £14.99

In 2013, Grayson Perry was invited to give the Reith Lectures, an annual series of lectures by leading public figures broadcast on Radio 4. He chose to lecture on the state of contemporary art, discussing some pertinent questions about the art world. How do museums decide which works of art to display? What constitutes 'art' when so many of the traditional definitions have broken down? Playing to the Gallery takes the raw material of Perry's Reith Lectures and tidies it up into a single finely woven narrative – a manifesto for Perry's charismatic, compelling views on the nature of art.

2. A Painter's Progress: A Portrait of Lucian Freud
David Dawson. Jonathan Cape, £35

One of Britain's greatest contemporary artists, Lucian Freud was also a notoriously private individual. David Dawson, his assistant of 20 years, was one of the very few people he was comfortable around – and one of the select group he allowed to photograph him. As Freud's assistant, Dawson was a near-constant presence in the artist's studio, and his photographs became a constant record of Freud's personal and working life. A Painter's Progress brings together many of Dawson's most revealing images of Freud and his studio, from images of the painter with models including Kate Moss, to the concluding images of the rooms in which Freud's own art collection was hung.

3. Dolls' Houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood
Halina Pasierbska. V&A Publishing, £14.99

Ranging from a 17th-century Dutch cabinet house to a 2001 Kaleidoscope House designed by Lena Dunham's mother, the Museum of Childhood is home to 99 dolls' houses. In this captivating exploration by Halina Pasierbska, an expert on dolls' houses and their furniture, takes the reader on a rollercoaster tour through the history of dolls' houses, their origins and elaborations, all accompanied by beautiful, specially commissioned photographs. Twelve of the houses featured in the book will go on show at the museum later this year at the exhibition Small Stories.

​4. Ciao, Carpaccio! An Infatuation
Jan Morris. Pallas Athene, £12.95

A student of Gentile Bellini, the Italian painter Vittore Carpaccio has been neglected by recent critics in favour of his more radical contemporaries. In this monograph, travel writer Jan Morris discusses her lasting love of the Venetian painter, musing over the uncertainties surrounding his identity, the endless detail in his paintings, and reflecting on the fascination he posed to other figures (including John Ruskin) over the years. The book is filled with memorable observations, including the fact that the Italian dish was named after the painter because the colour of raw beef reminded its inventor of the artist's pigments.

​5. Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art
Ossian Ward. Laurence King, £9.95

In this jargon-free and informative new book, former Time Out art critic Ossian Ward encourages viewers to ditch their passive viewing with artworks for an active, inquisitive relationship with contemporary art. Recalling John Berger's Ways of Seeing, one of the seminal texts in art criticism, Ways of Looking features essays on some of the world's greatest contemporary artists, including Gerhard Richter, Cory Arcangel, Ai Weiwei, Fiona Banner, Spartacus/Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Martin Creed and – perhaps unexpectedly – Rembrandt.