This is a working list of the best art history books. These art history books offer an overview of art history – the regions, type, backdrop, history and importance. They are a great general overview of art history 101 – they won’t cover every topic (no single book will) however will be a general guide and great for starters, or even the more advanced who want a go-to book that covers all periods of art.
Gardner’s Art Through the Ages
First published in 1926 and still being updated every couple of years, Gartner’s Art through the Ages is the bible of art history, covering all forms from paintings, to architecture. If you are going to buy any one book make sure that it is this one. It’s size makes for a great coffee table book.
The Story of Art
First published in 1950, The Story of Art by Austrian born art historian E. H. Gombrich is aimed at younger readers as an all encompassing introduction to art. It is still updated every 5-10 years and is believed to be the best selling art book of all time. The book has a single chapter for each time-based period in art history covering everything from pre-historic art to contemporary art. The Story of Art contains an enormous amount of pictures making it a great visual guide.
Art Since 1900
Art Since 1900 by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois and Benjamin Buchloh was first published in 2005 and focuses on the history of art from 1900 to present – covering the extensive period of modern art. This book is a bit more advanced than most ‘overview’ books – it goes into quite complex detail and critique of its subject matter and isn’t really for the beginners unless you want to drive right in on this specific period in art history – think neo-impressionism, fauvism, surrealism, abstract expressionism and contemporary art.