Gorgeous Coffee Table Books from Great Museums

Great coffee table books published by the world's greatest museums
Although going to a great museum is one of the primary reasons to travel, the best institutions in the world often bring their priceless collections to you on the printed page. If you seek inspiration or preparation for your next big trip (or if you just want to relive the pleasures of a vacation you took years ago), immerse yourself in a handsome publication released by one of these museums. We're not talking about mere pamphlets, souvenirs from temporary exhibitions, or throwaway guides, but substantial tomes, each published recently, that will always look good on your table or bookshelf and remind of you a distant exhibit forevermore. To help you know what you'll find on their glossy pages, we've included descriptions written by the publishers themselves.
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Bodleian Library Treasures
By David Vaisey; 240 pages; $60
 
"Rare books, music, manuscripts, ephemera, and maps, many of the treasures photographed and described for this lavish volume are well-loved around the world, from Jane Austen’s manuscript of The Watsons to notebooks created by the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a map of Narnia drawn by C. S. Lewis, and the original manuscript of the renowned children’s work The Wind in the Willows. Others are known for their beauty or historical significance, including the Gutenberg Bible, Magna Carta, and the extraordinary medieval manuscript the Douce Apocalypse. Still others hold poignant stories like the small handwritten book presented as a New Year’s present in 1545 to Katherine Parr by an eleven-year-old stepdaughter who would later become Queen Elizabeth I. Vaisey brings these and other treasures together in chronological order, showcasing the Bodleian Library’s renowned collections." (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford)

  • Where the museum is: Oxford, U.K.
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The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects
By Richard Kurin; 784 pages; $40

"Under Secretary for Art, History, and Culture Richard Kurin, aided by a team of top Smithsonian curators and scholars, has assembled a literary exhibition of 101 objects from across the Smithsonian's museums that together offer a marvelous new perspective on the history of the United States... Kurin sheds remarkable new light on objects we think we know well, from Lincoln's hat to Dorothy's ruby slippers and Julia Child's kitchen, including the often astonishing tales of how each made its way into the collections of the Smithsonian. Other objects will be eye-opening new discoveries for many, but no less evocative of the most poignant and important moments of the American experience. Some objects, such as Harriet Tubman's hymnal, Sitting Bull's ledger, Cesar Chavez's union jacket, and the Enola Gay bomber, tell difficult stories from the nation's history, and inspire controversies when exhibited at the Smithsonian... In Kurin's hands, each object comes to vivid life, providing a tactile connection to American history." (Penguin Books)

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The Prado Masterpieces
By Museo Nacional del Prado; 494 pages; $125

"The first-ever comprehensive showcase of the masterpieces found in the collection of the Museo Nacional del Prado in [Madrid,] Spain. The numerous works by Francisco de Goya, the single most extensively represented artist, as well as by Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Titian, Peter Paul Rubens, and Hieronymus Bosch are some of the highlights of the collection. Comprehensively showcasing the museum’s permanent collection, this magnificent book is the first of its kind to be published in association with the Prado, covering the collection from ancient sculpture to the nineteenth century.... There are sections looking in depth at specific painters (Velázquez, Titian, El Greco, and Bosch) and at the themes of still life, portraits, and religious paintings. The Prado: Masterpieces can be read as a complete history of Western art, as illustrated by the careful selection of highlights from the museum’s collection." (Thames & Hudson)

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Secrets of Churchill's War Rooms
By Jonathan Asbury; 288 pages; $45

"At the war’s end, Churchill and his colleagues left... and locked the door behind them—and the War Rooms remained there, untouched and little known, until the early 1980s. Today, those historic chambers are on display as the Churchill War Rooms exhibit. With Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, you can go behind the glass partitions that separate the War Rooms from the visiting public, closer than ever before to where Churchill not only ran the war—but won it. This magnificent volume offers up-close photography of details in every room and provides access to sights unavailable on a simple tour of Churchill War Rooms. These are views that few people in the world have ever seen. Go behind closed doors to sit at Churchill’s desk, open up long-abandoned drawers and sift through seventy-year-old papers. See the anxious scratches on the arms of Sir Winston’s chair, pick up the phone that he used to speak to the president of the United States, and examine the map that loomed over his bed as he took his famous afternoon naps. Including more than three hundred detailed images and firsthand memories of Churchill as a leader, boss, father, husband, and a man, Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms tells the fascinating story of the work carried out in these underground offices." (Imperial War Museums)

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings,
By Kathryn Calley Galitz; 544 pages; $75

"As the first large survey published in 30 years, and the first large general survey of the Met's paintings collection, [this book] is the first to celebrate the greatest and most iconic paintings of one of the largest, most important, and most beloved museums in the world. This impressive book’s broad sweep of material, all from a single museum, makes it at once a universal history of painting and the ideal introduction to the iconic masterworks of this world-renowned institution. Lavish color illustrations and details of 500 masterpieces, created over 5,000 years in cultures across the globe, are presented chronologically from the dawn of civilization to the present. These works represent a grand tour of painting from ancient Egypt and classical antiquity and prized Byzantine and medieval altarpieces, to paintings from Asia, India, Africa, and the Americas and the greatest European and North American masters." (Skira Rizzoli)

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The Louvre: All the Paintings
By Vincent Pomarède; 784 pages; $75

"Endorsed by the Louvre and for the first time ever, every painting from the world's most popular museum is available in one stunning book. All 3,022 paintings on display in the permanent painting collection of the Louvre are presented in full color in this striking, slipcased book. ... All 3,022 paintings are fully annotated with the name of the painting and artist, the date of the work, the birth and death dates of the artist, the medium that was used, the size of the painting, the Louvre catalog number, and the room in the Louvre in which the painting is found." (Black Dog & Leventhal)

  • Where the museum is: Paris
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National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame: Celebrating 30 Years
By Lisa Schlansker Kolosek; 276 pages; $45

"The only museum in the United States dedicated entirely to the art form of dance, the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame opened in June 1987... Lisa Schlansker Kolosek has created a rich pictorial history tracing not only the museum's remarkable evolution but the relevance of the museum to the city of Saratoga Springs, New York. Kolosek tells the story of the museum's origins, from its notable founders' grand idea to the selection and complete renovation of a historic 1920s bath house as its home. Combining a complete survey of exhibitions presented by the museum and the incredible history of the Hall of Fame, which recognizes dance luminaries across multiple genres, this book offers an in-depth look at the museum's expansive collection of costumes, visual art, and archival materials... Beautifully illustrated with more than four hundred photographs, this book pays tribute to the immense impact of the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame." (Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press)

  • Where the museum is: Saratoga Springs, New York
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Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago: Highlights of the Collection
Introduction by James Rondeau; 176 pages; $40

"The Art Institute of Chicago, one of the most beloved and important museums in the world, houses an extraordinary collection of objects from diverse places, cultures, and time periods. This beautiful catalogue opens the doors of the museum to readers, presenting an expansive selection of painted works from around the globe, introduced insightfully by James Rondeau, president and director of the Art Institute. New color photography accompanies entries written by a team of curators, art historians, and educators, which put the works into context. The book showcases a dazzling range of paintings, including an Egyptian funeral portrait, an ancient Mexican wall mural, Chinese scroll paintings, Japanese painted screens, and works by artists such as Caillebotte, Cassatt, El Greco, Gauguin, Homer, Hopper, Johns, Lichtenstein, Matisse, Mitsuoki, Monet, Morisot, Motley, O’Keeffe, Picasso, Pollock, Rembrandt, Richter, Rubens, Sargent, Seurat, Tiepolo, Turner, Van Gogh, Warhol, Whistler, and Wood; contemporary artists featured include Kerry James Marshall, Wanda Pimentel, and Kazuo Shiraga." (Art Institute of Chicago)

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Treasures of the British Museum
By Marjorie Caygill, 240 pages; $50

"The British Museum is the most magnificent treasure-house in the world. The wealth and range of its collections is unequalled by any other national museum. The Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures, Egyptian mummies, drawings by Botticelli and Michelangelo, Assyrian reliefs, the Lewis Chessmen and the Sutton Hoo treasure are all to be found there. Treasures of the British Museum delights readers with the intriguing stories behind these treasures and many more. This timely new edition brings the story right up to date, with chapters on important acquisitions made by the Museum in the last fifteen years, including the Warren Cup and the Queen of the Night." (British Museum Press)

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The Broad Collection
By Francesco Bonami; 464 pages; $85

"This volume of superb writing and lavish illustrations pays tribute to one of the most significant collections of contemporary art in the world and now a major new museum, The Broad in Los Angeles. For more than four decades Eli and Edythe Broad have fostered public appreciation of contemporary art through their collection of nearly 2,000 works, notable for its incredible sophistication and breadth... Readers will delight in essays by filmmaker John Waters on Jeff Koons; music critic Greil Marcus on Christopher Wool; novelist Siri Husvedt on Anselm Kiefer; travel writer and essayist Pico Iyer on Takashi Murakami; Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Mark Stevens on Cy Twombly; and former Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, John Elderfield on Jasper Johns, among many other pairings. Curated as carefully as an exhibition, this collection of timeless images and timely writings gives readers a unique pathway through this enormous, and enormously influential, collection." (Prestel)

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Timeless Beauty: The Art of Louis Comfort Tiffany
By the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum; 208 pages; $30

"American artist Louis Comfort Tiffany is most famous for his revolutionary and widely popular glass windows, lamps, and vases, but his contributions to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century art and design were so much more. Tiffany was also a painter, photographer, interior decorator, and designer of ceramics, enamels, and jewelry. This book presents more than 200 of the artist's works from the renowned Tiffany collection of [Florida's] Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in chronological sequence, providing a biographical view of the man behind the famous glass." (Schiffer)

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Versailles: A Private Invitation
By Guillaume Picon; 320 pages; $85

"This comprehensive monograph on Versailles offers unprecedented access to the château and grounds of one of France’s most significant and legendary historical landmarks. For this book, Versailles granted the photographer carte blanche access to the palace and its grounds. This new edition includes previously unseen material on the recently restored Cabinet de la Meridienne (Marie-Antoinette’s boudoir), the Salon d’Aurore, and new, up-close and in-situ details of objects that are not part of the general public circuit. Also included are historical memoirs and letters that provide fascinating insight into life at the palace." (Flammarion)

  • Where the museum is: outside Paris
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New Museum: 40 Years New
By Lisa Phillips; 240 pages; $50

"A rich, illustrated history of the New Museum, a pioneering, internationally renowned institution. Through a detailed chronology that captures the New York museum's legendary firsts, major milestones, groundbreaking exhibitions, and prescient curatorial thinking, this book provides the first authoritative history on an institution whose bold and experimental spirit has made it a model twenty-first-century art museum. The book traces its growth, from its beginnings in a classroom at the New School, to its role as an international institution." (Phaidon Press)

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The Vatican: All the Paintings
By Anja Grebe; 542 pages; $75

"The Vatican is one of the most visited sites in the world and houses many museums and palaces, as well as one of the finest art collections known to man. Works of interest include Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and his Pieta; the Raphael frescoes; the works of Giotto, Fra Angelico, Titian, and Caravaggio; and some of the world's finest statues, manuscripts, architecture, and gardens, as well as the world's most precious Christian relics... The book is organized into 22 sections representing the museums and areas of the Vatican, including the Pinacoteca, the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms, the Borgia Apartments, the Vatican Palaces, and St. Peter's Basilica. Each one of the 976 works of art represented in the book—including 661 classical paintings on display in the permanent painting collection and 315 other masterpieces—is annotated with the name of the painting and artist, the date of the work, the birth and death dates of the artist, the medium that was used, the size of the work, and the catalog number (if applicable)." (Black Dog & Leventhal)

  • Where the museum is: Rome
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The Museum of Broken Relationships
By Olinka Vistica; 224 pages; $27

"A postcard from a childhood sweetheart. A wedding dress sealed in a jar. A roll of undeveloped film. An axe used to chop an ex-lover's furniture in a fit of rage. A wind-up toy, a bar of bath soap, a tin of Love Potion with the simple caption 'Doesn't work.' These objects, and many more, make up the whimsical, imaginative, poignant population of the Museum of Broken Relationships... Now, as the physical museum arrives for a permanent spot in Los Angeles, the authors have collected the best, funniest, most heartwarming and heartrending stories from their huge selection of submissions. Much like the bestselling PostSecret series, this beautiful oversized, four-color book will offer an irresistible glimpse inside other people's secret worlds, creating moments of deep human connection. It is a must read for anyone who has ever loved and lost." (Grand Central Publishing)

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America's National Gallery of Art
By Philip Kopper and the Publishing Office of the National Gallery of Art; 400 pages; $75

"In celebration of the 75th anniversary [in 2016] of a beloved cultural institution, America’s National Gallery of Art takes readers on a definitive inside tour through the museum’s remarkable history. With lively prose and abundant illustrations, this richly detailed volume recounts the development of the Gallery under its four directors―David Finley, John Walker, J. Carter Brown, and currently Earl A. Powell III―and highlights the museum’s collections, exhibitions, architecture, and ambience. Later chapters explore the Gallery’s new emphasis on contemporary art and its historic 2014 agreement to accept custody of the Corcoran Collection, giving readers and visitors a window onto the future of this national treasure." (Princeton University Press)

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The Sir John Soane's Museum, London
By Tim Knox and Derry Moore; 160 pages; $55

"Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was one of the most inventive and original architects of his time... His most famous and enduring legacy, however, is probably his extraordinary house-museum, which Soane developed from three properties in the atmospheric London district of Lincoln's Inn Fields. In this unique establishment, which embodies Soane's architectural vision and his passion for collecting, he accumulated an outstanding collection of plaster casts and more than 7,000 books, together with such spectacular items as the sarcophagus of the Egyptian king Seti I... Written by a former director of the museum, and including the latest research into the creation of the house and its collections, the book begins with a succinct and insightful history of Soane's life. It reveals how he not only used his house-museum as a laboratory for developing his architectural ideas, but also intended the collection to become an 'Academy of Architecture' that would inform and inspire students for generations to come.... The second part of the book comprises a room-by-room tour of the building, including details about Soane's eclectic collection. The vivid text and evocative photographs, featuring many previously unpublished watercolors and artefacts, provide an eloquent account of this perpetually surprising, unforgettable cabinet of curiosities, which offers a fascinating and moving insight into the genius of an exceptional man." (Merrell Publishers)

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Frommer's has the guide
When you're ready to visit these places for yourself, Frommer's publishes the guidebooks to bring you there. Our online Bookstore is the place to get your hands on all our current titles, which are freshly researched by experienced writers who give you honest opinions—free of promotion, paid sponsorships, and fluff. Click here to visit the Frommer's Bookstore.
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