As readers of my musings know, I love art books, and this is becoming a specialty area for Raven & Gryphon Fine Books (R&GFB). I have come to recognize the top end art book publishers. In fact, this is one of the things I look for when purchasing books. In this musing, I will introduce the reader to TASCHEN, Koln (Cologne) Germany. I will share 3 viewpoints: their own, Wikipedia’s and my own observations. And this will be followed up with photos and descriptions of some of the titles we have, some in our personal library and some with R&GFB.
Taschen’s view of themselves in their 25th Anniversary Special Editions
TASCHEN’s great adventure began back in 1980, when 18-year-old Benedikt Taschen opened a shop in his native Cologne to market his massive comics collection. In 1984, he purchased 40,000 remainder copies of a Magritte book, reselling them for a fraction of their original price. Taschen had been interested in art but found that art books were too expensive and hard to obtain; which lead him to think that the art-book market should be democratized. Soon he began reprinting books under his own name for budget prices and the next year he published his first original title and the first book in the Basic Art Series – Picasso. In 1989, he published he landmark double jumbo Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings hit bookstores around the world.
In 2000, Taschen surprised the world by breaking the record for the most expensive book published in the 20th century: Copy #1 of Helmut Newton’s SUMO, signed by over 80 celebrities featured in it, which fetched $300,000 at a charity auction.
TASCHEN has grown into one of the most successful and unique publishers in the global market, publishing an eclectic variety of books for people of all tastes and budget ranges, distributed worldwide in over twenty languages.
Their tagline – “We Love to Love Books.”
Wikipedia on TASCHEN
Taschen is an art book publisher founded in 1980 by Benedikt Taschen in Cologne, Germany.
As of January 2017, Taschen is co-managed by Benedikt and his eldest daughter, Marlene Taschen.
The company began as Taschen Comics, publishing Benedikt's comic collection. Taschen has been a pioneer in making lesser-seen art available to mainstream bookstores, including some fetishistic imagery, queer art, historical erotica, pornography and adult magazines (including multiple books with Playboy magazine). The firm has brought potentially controversial art into broader public view, publishing it alongside its more mainstream books of comics reprints, art photography, painting, design, fashion, advertising history, film, and architecture.
Taschen publications are available in a variety of sizes, from oversized tomes to small pocket-sized books. The company has also produced calendars, address books, and postcards sets. In 1985, Taschen introduced the Basic Art series with an inaugural title on Salvador Dalí. The series today comprises over 100 titles available in up to thirty languages, each about a separate artist, from classical to contemporary. Further series followed, alongside an expansion into new themes like architecture, design, film, and lifestyle. As an example, the firm also publishes "Basic Architecture" series in the same style as "Basic Art" that covers some of the most prominent architects in history.
I started to collect books before TASCHEN was founded. In the 1980s and 1990s, my view of TASCHEN mirrored that of Wikipedia – cheap, small sized volumes of off-colour material. I never took them seriously as a creator of anything of substance. Since my collecting interests through 2017 did not include mainstream art books, I still considered them to be the purveyor of smut.
It was not until we founded R&GFBs, that I became infatuated with mainstream art books. My collecting interest previously was on illustrated books. (See Musing #20 Illustrated Books vs Art Books, posted Dec 19, 2019). As I started to buy art books, increasingly I found myself buying art books published by TASCHEN. And, finally, I had my AHHA moment. TASCHEN was a publisher of fine art books and as we got closer to today’s date the books got grander! Have a look at some of the TASCHEN books outlined below, and I think you will see the results of a firm that marches to their tagline “We Love to Love Books”!
I will list these books in chronological order. Please note, that the photos accompanying the musing are of the exterior of the volumes. In all cases, the reproduced images within the books are of outstanding quality.
Basic Art Series – Van Gogh (1990) and Picasso (1992)
These are both two volume sets in matching slipcases. Everything about them is the highest quality, the books themselves, the dust jackets, and the slip cases. Side by side they are very handsome.
You can see the TASCHEN cost saving ingenuity – the formats are totally duplicated. Something you see repeatedly in their book series.
The Van Gogh has his complete paintings (not works) – a total of 757 colour and 207 black & white reproductions.
The Picasso has his complete works – a total of 962 colour and 474 black & white reproductions.
Basic Art Series – Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings (2005) and Paintings,
Sketches and Drawings (2007). Both by Frank Zollner.
The Complete Paintings is the larger format book and big is beautiful.
The other volume is smaller, relatively, but still substantial. The content of The Complete Paintings book comprises a section of this work. Again, you see TASCHEN’s cost saving initiative.
25th Anniversary Editions – The Roses by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (2007)
This was the book from which I took their view of themselves. TASCHEN produced 18 of these Special Editions. As you can see in the photo the cover of the book celebrated their 25th anniversary. It is obvious they take pride in what they do and that is a huge positive in their
This book reproduces all of the plates of roses painted by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. He was nicknamed "the Raphael of flowers" and has been called the greatest botanical illustrator of all time. Redouté was an official court artist of Marie Antoinette, and continued painting through the French Revolution and Reign of Terror. He survived the turbulent political upheaval to gain international recognition for his precise renderings of plants, which remain as fresh in the early 21st century as when first painted.
Carrying-Box Productions – The Art of The Pin-up (2014)
I made up the series description. I don’t know if TASCHEN has a name for this series. But the books are so big and heavy (10 pounds in weight) that the publisher must have figured that to get the book home, the buyer needed a carrying case and so it was provided! This series seems to be carried at Chapters where I have bought this and the next title as well. They are not cheap which is an indication that TASCHEN has moved away from their introductory strategy into what they referred to as “an eclectic variety of books for people of all tastes and budget ranges”.
Hey – this book ain’t smut – its art. Actually, these were illustrative artists rather than mainstream artists. Hence, fits into my collecting interests. From the blurb – PIN-UP: defined as artworks depicting an idealized female form intended for public display on calendars, magazine covers and centerfolds. The Art of Pin-Up profiles America’s top 10 pin-up artists, with images largely sourced from original art.
Hmmm – OK this does seem to link to TASCHEN’s roots.
Carrying-Box Productions – The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries (2018)
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this bemouth. I have a number of books on libraries, and the stairs to our loft is lined with photos of famous libraries. (Even beats out pin-ups!). I needed two pillows to support this book as I read in in bed. The text is in English, German, and French – but the pictures speak for themselves.
The focus in on libraries in Europe and the Americas. 560 pages of pure bliss.
TASCHEN must be considered to be one of the best producers of art books, today. When you
see that name of the spine – have a peek.