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Talking Tomes: The High Life and the Low

The current crop of photo, design and art books covers topics ranging from emeralds to cashmere scarves and film noir.

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The cover of "The Surf Club."

Photo By John Aquino

The current crop of photo, design and art books covers everything from elegant emerald jewelry and vintage scenes from Miami’s Surf Club to chilling noir films and the underworld of Hieronymus Bosch.


“Emerald: Twenty-One Centuries of Jewelled Opulence and Power” (Thames & Hudson), by Joanna Hardy and Jonathan Self with a preface by Franca Sozzani and an introduction by Hettie Judah. Emeralds are 20 times rarer than diamonds, and their vivid green shades make them more exciting to look at, too, especially when massed. There’s Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton wearing a tiara Cartier made from the chunky Romanov emeralds and Marlene Dietrich with her iconic face set off by Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin’s diamond bracelets equipped with huge, barbaric-looking stones. Extraordinary pieces that belonged to Indian royalty are shown, among them the crown jewels created by Cartier for the Maharajah of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh, which included 586 emerald beads, four engraved emerald plaques and diamonds, all set in platinum.

Written history abounds here, too, as the authors describe such phenomena as the Cheapside Hoard — a rich trove of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewelry discovered in London in 1912 — and the role of the stones in a variety of kingdoms.

“Veruschka: From Vera to Veruschka/The Unseen Photographs by Johnny Moncada” (Rizzoli New York; available March 18), edited by Antonio Monfreda with text by Veruschka, Franca Sozzani, Valentina Moncada, Hamish Bowles, Antonio Monfreda and Massimo Di Forti. She was a young, German-born aristocrat known simply as Vera before she made the trip to the U.S. — pretending to be a mysterious Russian — that turned her into a star.

Johnny Moncada, a top fashion photographer in the early Sixties, took these pictures, which were left in a trunk for 40 years before he and his daughter Valentina rediscovered them. Taken in Rome, Capri and Sardinia, they show off a more coltish edition of the great model’s beauty than has been seen before, along with the innovative Italian fashion of the time with its imaginative sculptural details.

“Jacques Henri Lartigue: A Sporting Life” (Actes Sud/Hermès), preface by Anne-Marie Garat and text by Thierry Terret. Were sports enthusiasts more photogenic and charming in the early part of the 20th century than they have been since? A look at this book suggests that they were. But appearances can be deceiving. Lartigue, born in 1894, was from a wealthy, well-connected family, and when, at age seven, he received a camera as a gift, he had access to skilled athletes who could pose for him. But he made his living as a painter, and these early photos weren’t seen by anyone outside his inner circle until he had his first show of them at 69 (he lived to be 92).

Skater and professional beauty Liane de Lancy is shown promenading in Paris in 1911 wearing a tailored suit with a broad white collar, polka dot pussycat bow and feather-trimmed hat, while Lartigue shoots a horse race at Deauville from a plane in 1919, and the swimmers in his 1931 water-festival view of the Molitor swimming pool in Paris dangle from rings in front of lots of stylish spectators. All his sports images have an uncommon poetry to them — beautifully framed, yet focused on the action.

“The Surf Club” (Assouline), foreword by Pamela Fiori and text by Tom Austin, shows more pretty people at play. Here, they’re in a Miami institution, first conceived to provide a less formal, less crowded alternative to the local Bath Club. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor; Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin; Gary Cooper with his then-wife Veronica Balfe; Frank Sinatra honeymooning with Ava Gardner, and Elizabeth Taylor with an early fiancé, William D. Pawley Jr., are just a few of the celebrities shown, while there’s also a painting of the view from the club by Sir Winston Churchill, and snapshots of such scenes as the staff setting up for a car show.

Some pages show colorful, playful invitations for parties at the club, while menus and wine lists turn up in black and white. Now Richard Meier has been enlisted to bring the club into the current century.

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