Cover Image: Artists' Letters

Artists' Letters

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Member Reviews

This is a delightful book that gives readers a sneak peek into the private letters of great artists. It was incredibly interesting to see so many different writing styles, as well as the dialogue and stories that each letter was comprised of.
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Fascinating. If, like me, you are an avid book reader and often wonder about the lives behind the words, well this is perfect.  Thoughtfully thought through and well edited. Brilliant.
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Fabulous book. A collection of 100 artists’ letters, reproduced in facsimile with a transcript and commentary, offering a fascinating glimpse into their lives. More of a book to peruse in hard copy than digitally, as it’s a one to dip in and out of rather than read straight through, but even as an e-book the production values stand out and it’s a joy to behold. Loved it.
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Why do we read collections of letters? Why do we want to look into the private thoughts and musings of people we did not personally know? For one, letters give us a glimpse into the time period in which they were written. They’re also a reminder of what’s often considered to be a dying art form in our digital age. Perhaps in the future we will begin to see compilations of email correspondence. But for now letters remain popular, and even more popular if the senders and recipients are famous. Sean Usher’s Letters of Note has provided readers both in an online format and in a hardback book with the fascinating letters and notes by figures such as John F Kennedy and Iggy Pop. There is now a new book by Michael Bird called Artists’ Letters which narrows down the famous to this specific niche. If we want to read famous people’s letters because of a nosy curiosity, why would we specifically read the correspondence of artists? 

To be inspired, and motivated. To find the secrets behind the work. To see if they were in private as they were in public. If these are your motivations for picking up the book, then you might be left a little shortchanged. It is clear that Artists Letters is working in the Letters of Note format. It contains facsimiles of letters, many, which are illustrated, beautiful art objects in their own right, followed by a transcript of their contents. But the desire to cover a large breadth of history and artists means only a few ever appear more than once, and no letter is more than a page long. It gives the effect of a coffee table book, or even a gallery with the letter as a painting and Bird’s contextual writings as a gallery card. What this means is that you’re left wanting more and not in the way that makes you admire it. It feels like too short a snippet to really pull you in to the time and place and the mindset of the writer of the letter. 

The book wants to give the reader a glimpse of the “artist-as-letter-writer” but in his introduction Bird quotes the 2016 book by Mary Song, Pen to Paper: Artist’s Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. What does this book offer that Song’s doesn’t? Well, for one, not all are handwritten. The typewritten letter makes several appearances here, and in the facsimiles one can see where the artists has typed over a mistake or written in a punctuation mark by hand, revealing the idiosyncrasies of that technology. 

The letters are organised thematically, but not chronologically which allows us to see the similarities in salutations and in content, in letters written centuries apart. Unsurprisingly the best, most affecting letters are in the chapters love and signing off, the latter of which contains just two of the last letters each artist wrote before they shortly passed away. An entire book of the latter would be a fantastic project and yet it is the smallest section of the book. In one of Thomas Gainsborough’s last letters he writes “God only knows what is for me, but hope is the pallat of colours we all paint with in sickness.” Another thing that makes these letters so poignant is the dramatic irony on the reader’s behalf, that they will die soon, something which the tone of Gainsborough and Cezanne’s letters communicate they seem to subconsciously be aware of. 

The book makes bold claims of being able to unpack the history of art and certain historical periods through letters, but there just isn’t enough, in length or by the same author for the reader to get a real sense of that, and that shortfall is mostly made up by Bird’s contextual introductions to each letter, many of which are much longer than the transcriptions themselves. 
There isn’t enough time to be “awkwardly conscious of being the third person in the room” for many of the letters, I’d also argue that our penchant for reading letter compilations, as well as, our relationship to the private has also changed somewhat over the years, even in relation to love letters and perhaps we don’t feel the same guilt as Dorothy Parker once wrote that she felt reading Katherine Mansfield’s published journals.
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The concept of this book was really interesting and compelled me to give it a read. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything profound about these letters and felt that the book fell flat.
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2,5 stars rounded to 3 stars. 

The first thought I had after finishing this book was “artists are really poor correspondents”. 

I was found the concept of this book rather fascinating, I did want to get more insight into the lives and thoughts of some artists and I imagined their letters to offer that. 
I have to admit, though, that most of the letters were disappointing. The interesting parts were the stories behind those letters, which show the great research the author did to get to the circumstances of each letter , and it was through that “introduction” to each letter that I learned more about the artists. 
I really liked the fact that the original picture/scanning of each letter was added to the text. I guess it was that part which really told something about the artist, from the way it was written or typed to the additional sketches/pictures added to the written part. 
Overall, it was an interesting book even though it was not exactly fulfilling.
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A lovely 'coffee table book'. Has some good context around each letter and it is nice to see the originals. If you love the Treasures of the British Library collection at The British Library you'll love this book.
I have ordered a paper copy for my library as I think it would be much nicer to read in that format than a digital copy. It is definitely a book that should be enjoyed in paper format to get the full impact.
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The title is difficult to read on the format given. What I have struggled through has been interesting, Will share the title with other artist,
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This was a really interesting and visually stunning look at how people used to communicate before our insipid, sterile little texts and emails. The book is worth buying just for Beatrix Potter's letter! There are several pairs of letters, such as the exchange between Gauguin and Van Gogh. There's even a holiday card from John & Yoko. If you like artists' biographies, found objects, or just handwriting analysis, this is the book for you.
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This book was lovely and very interesting. The photographs really brought the letters to ‘life.’ There is a wide range of letter too, on numerous themes....something for everyone.
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This book made me achingly aware of the things, such as letter writing, that sadly are being lost as we become a more technologically obsessed society. So many of the letters were glimpses into an artist's current project or a frustration concerning one. Familiar names of artists and authors are scattered throughout. Their delightful little doodles and random thoughts were utterly charming.
This book doesn't 'play well' digitally though. Irony, huh? The letters are difficult to read and, therefore, the impact is lessened. I would love to read this book in print and would, undoubtedly, read and re-read it more than likely finding some new little gem that was previously overlooked.
Kudos to the people who sought out these letters and included a copy of the original with accompanying text. It's a remarkable compilation!
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I thought this book to be a noble undertaking in that the author has allowed us the rare opportunity to read what was never meant for us, the public, and understand the innermost thoughts and conversations of persons well known to history; it is, to me, all a little bit scandalous. As Bird says in his forward, "to the eye of history, there is no such thing as privacy-" so I tried to keep an open mind. 
What I found particularly interesting was a passage in a letter between 
Francisco Lucientes y Goya and Martin Zapater, where it concerns a painting my museum actually had on  view 2 years ago during the summer of 2018, the portrait he painted of Manuel Godoy. I thought that work must have been quite tedious to paint and right there in his letter Goya reveals that the work had already been passed on my somebody else and made its way down to him! And not only that, but it was also going to be a longer project than both he and Godoy originally expected, which he doesn't seem particularly thrilled about. All in all, this book was a delicious peek through the colorful curtain of time!
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Email came and it killed letters. Human beings started to write texts on wtsapp or SMS.

And our capacity to conserve our communications; in physical form vanished.
And lately we are progressing towards self destructing emails and messages.

We want to communicate and delete. To keep the slate clean.

But old times were different.
Famous people and artists wrote letters to other famous counterparts.
And these letters have survived sometimes from natural decay and are preserved in highly readable state.

This book contains such letter from mighty and talented.
There are great people like Picasso, Da Vinci, David Hockney, Van Gogh and others whose names I cannot make out clearly.
But this is grand Heritage and collectables on show.

I liked profound use of cartooning and drawings in letters. Some drawings are very adorable.
Letters discuss business, love , travel and careful incisive inquest into lives of each other.

Writer and receiver don't matter with time, but what they left keeps affecting masses.
Lovely postcards are also eye-catching and glorious.

A delightful peek into history of solid and perennial communication between two human beings.
Thanks netgalley and publisher for review copy.
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What an absolutely fascinating book! Anyone who loves art history would love to get their hands on this one. I would make wonderful gift! I covers an extensive array of artists, includes pictures of the actual letters (now I can say I've seen Michelangelo's handwriting), and is well organized into categories (family, love, professional). This is one to buy in hard copy, enjoy by bits and pieces, and keep at the coffee table to share with your like-minded friends! Loved, loved, loved this book!
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A wonderful intimate look at authors reading the letters the photographs of the original letters cards notes with sketches drawings the artists included This would make a perfect gift.#quarto#netgalley
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A great selection of letters between artists offering unique insights on their lives,friendships and artistic patterns.The project is very interesting however I was not entirely captivated as I believe the book could be truly enjoyed in its paper form.This is just my personal opinion as I read an electronic copy.

An applause to the editor and to the curator for the selection and the meticulous research of the letters.
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A great present for any art lover.

This is an analogue love letter to communications from artists. I particulary liked the small drawaings and graphics on some of the selection of letters from c. 1482 right up to 1995. 
I got me thinking: where will today's artist's emails be stored? On a server? In deleted items. A beautiful of communication of yesteryear's greats. 


Thank you so much the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary electronic copy in return for an honest review.
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Engaging and inspiring insights, where the artists' voices come through poignantly and in an interesting selection.
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What a neat book! This would be a great gift for any art lover. I loved seeing the actual letters written by the artists, especially the Beatrix Potter one.
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If you have read a book called "Letters of Note" it is like that but for artists and by the artists. it is inspiring to see letters - handwritten, drawn. Getting an insight into the artists minds.
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