LAUTREC BY LAUTREC (Viking, $30.00) is an extremely handsome tome by P. HUISMAN and M. G. DORTU, published in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the painter’s birth, although such an excuse is hardly necessary. Madame Dortu inherited Lautrec’s papers, sketches, and so on from his friend and dealer, Maurice Joyant; Mr. Huisman’s text is successfully designed to counteract the theatrical legend of Lautrec the dissipated dwarf. The man he portrays, with the solid support of letters, works, anecdotes, and reminiscences, is an odd mixture of country squire, adolescent wag, dutiful son, hardheaded and hardworking professional, sophisticate about town, and, regrettably, plain drunk. The drunkenness came late in the day, however, and few men have had better reason than Lautrec for wanting a buffer against life’s hard corners. Mr. Huisman describes, in short, a fine painter who was also a man of wit, kindness, and almost terrifying courage. The illustrations are excellent, partly, no doubt, because so much of Lautrec’s best work was originally made to be printed.
Pictures are the point of a good many books at this time of year, whether they were originally designed for printing or not. Usually not. MARIO PRAZ, professor of Italian literature in England and of English literature in Rome, and author of distinguished critical works, has written AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF FURNISHING (Braziller, $20.95). This is a highly personal, eclectic work based less on the alleged subject than on Mr. Praz’s affection for those detailed watercolors of interiors which the owners of great houses used to extract from talented visitors, tutors, governesses, and sometimes even professional artists. The author is far more interested in imagining himself at large in these satin-hung establishments than in mundane facts about furniture, and while his book has a certain romantic charm, it is remarkable for its paucity of useful information.
Altogether more impressive is ROBERT KOCH’S LOUIS C. TIFFANY:REBEL IN GLASS (Crown, $7.50), which includes good colorplates of many Tiffany pieces and a vast amount of black-and-white illustration which, while it can do nothing with Tiffany’s glowing, slippery colors, reveals all too clearly the linear writhings of art nouveau. Regardless of one’s taste for vases that turn into lilies and lampshades that turn into mosques, Tiffany was a man of great inventiveness and a powerful influence on decorating taste for nearly fifty years. Mr. Koch’s account of his activities is enthusiastic but somewhat hampered by the nature of his subject: Tiffany was an inarticulate man who never wrote a letter if he could possibly avoid it. The real fun of this book is the pictures.
THE DIARIES OF PAUL KLEE (University of California Press, $8.50), which the painter mulled over and rewrote in his later years, have been edited by his son, Felix Klee. The material tells surprisingly little about what Klee painted but something of how he thought of painting and a great deal of what he felt about people, landscape, and atmosphere. The early section — Klee began keeping a kind of record of his experiences before he was twenty — is fairly thick with student and family gossip and has a strong current of that drizzly romanticism that seems to have been prevalent among young men before 1914, but it is also lively with sharp reactions to people, peppery reports of the operas and concerts to which Klee was devoted, and minute childhood memories.
In THE WOUNDED LAND (Coward - McCann, $5.95) the European author (and American citizen) HANS HABE describes a visit to the United States which turned out, to his dismay, to center principally around discussions of race relations and the murder of President Kennedy. Despite a tendency to report old Texas jokes as solid fact, and an occasional wild misunderstanding of peculiar local habits, Mr. Habe has on the whole a shrewd comprehension of as much of the country as he chooses to describe. His comments on the frontier mystique which leads to pleated shirts and high-heeled boots in Washington, and on the difference between the conservatism that preserves the best of the past and the pseudoconservatism which tries to re-create a past that never existed, are acute and interesting.