Books of the year 2014: The best art/gift books

From David Dawson's images of Lucian Freud to TS Eliot's Ariel Poems

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The Independent Culture

A Painter's Progress: A Portrait of Lucian Freud (Cape, £35) brings the old eagle, his subjects (including the Queen, Hockney and himself) and paintings startlingly to life in two decades of photography by his studio assistant David Dawson. Beautiful and moving, this album is an artwork in itself.

Turner's Sketchbooks (Tate, £24.99) is the first single volume devoted to the visual notes that he made obsessively for 62 years. Sketches range from the fragmentary scribble that became Rain, Steam and Speed to miniature masterpieces. Perfect for fans of Mr Turner.

A Way of Living: The Art of Willem De Kooning (Phaidon, £59.95) by Judith Zilczer is a lavish and persuasive portfolio of abstract expressionism's protean genius. The relentless, provoking output of this "painter's painter" culminate in the "compelling visual beauty" of the spare abstractions he produced while suffering from Alzheimer's.

Architectural photography that is wonderful (Piano, Gehry, Wright), extraordinary (the limitless uniformity of Hong Kong apartment blocks) and disturbing (Al Ghraib) has been gathered in the mesmerising Shooting Space (Phaidon, £49.95) by Elias Redstone. An original, wholly successful marriage of two art forms. Same goes for Uncompromising Expression by Richard Havers (Thames & Hudson, £48), a definitive visual record of Blue Note, the jazz label whose roster of artistes and sleeve designs defined "hip".

From this year's big retrospective at the Pompidou Centre, Henri Cartier-Bresson: Here and Now (Thames & Hudson, £45) reveals how surrealism remained an enduring influence. Our view of the legendary lensman is refreshed by combining classic images (the young Capote like an exotic bloom in a New Orleans hothouse) with the unfamiliar. In a shot from 1985, a circular configuration of backlit clouds resembles a shark's jaw.

Collected in C'est la Vie (Phaidon, £29.95), Jean-Jacques Sempé's genial cartoons have enlivened magazines for decades. A spell with Sempé is like watching a Jacques Tati comedy. John Lennon The Collected Artwork (Bantam, £30) is a surprise – witty, economical and accomplished. Comparisons with Thurber and even Steinberg are not too far-fetched, though Lennon developed his own distinctive style, particularly in the late, tender family drawings.

The colourful double-page spreads in The Train Book (Dorling Kindersley, £25) are surprising (the wedge-shaped Bugatti railcar of 1932 inspired the Mallard), wide-ranging (the "durable" Kriegslok loco was a great Nazi asset) and comprehensive (four pages on the Pennsylvania Railway caboose). A few minutes glancing through Lists of Note by Shaun Usher (Canongate, £30) becomes an engrossed hour as you mull over "available names" accumulated by Dickens (Sudds, Topwash, Grimmer…), Lovecraft's weird ideas for novels ("Attaining gigantic dimensions"), shortlisted names for Disney dwarfs (Chesty, Hotsy, Neurtsy…) and 122 other accumulations ranging from revelatory to addle-headed.

Best known for "A cold coming we had of it", TS Eliot's Ariel Poems (Faber, £14.99), written for six Christmas pamphlets from 1927-32, have been republished in handsome facsimile with the original illustrations by E.McKnight Kauffer. A still briefer poetic stocking filler comes courtesy of the Poet Laureate. Dorothy Wordsworth's Christmas Birthday (Picador, £6.99) by Carol Ann Duffy is a tiny time machine that transports us to frosty Cumberland in 1799.

Hilarious and painfully accurate, The Very Hungover Caterpillar (Constable, £9.99) by Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees with illustrations by Gillian Johnson is liable to be one of those parodies that becomes more famous than the original.

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