PHAIDON: HOME OF THE VISUAL ARTS
Phaidon is the premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print. We work with the world's most influential artists, chefs, writers and thinkers to produce innovative books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, food and travel, and illustrated books for children. Phaidon is headquartered in London and New York City.
PHAIDON HISTORY: AN OVERVIEW
'SOCRATES. There is one way, then, in which a man can be free from all anxiety about the fate of his soul - if in life he has abandoned bodily pleasures and adornments, as foreign to his purpose and likely to do more harm than good, and has devoted himself to the pleasures of acquiring knowledge, and so by decking his soul not with a borrowed beauty but with its own - with self-control, and goodness, and courage, and liberality, and truth - has fitted himself to await his journey to the next world.' Plato, Phaedo, 114d-115a (trans, Hugh Tredennick)
Phaidon has a long and distinguished history as an art book publisher. The leading international publisher in the arts immediately post-war, the company went through a period of decline in the 1980s but since it changed ownership in 1990 has vigorously reclaimed its position.
The company was founded in Vienna in 1923 by Dr Bela Horovitz and Ludwig Goldscheider. Their first titles were not art books, but were on literature, philosophy and history. A German edition of Plato's works was among their first books. Horovitz took the name of Phaidon, a pupil of Socrates and speaker in Plato's dialogue on the immortality of the soul, as the name of his company (Phaidon is the German version of the name; in English it is Phaedo). It reflected his love of classical antiquity and culture. From the very beginning, great attention was paid to value and design, two factors that remain key today. Horovitz's objective was to deliver quality books at an affordable price; Goldscheider's contribution came in the elegant layout and handsome production.
In the 1930s they expanded the programme to include the works of the historians Ranke, Mommsen and Burckhardt, again at sensationally low prices, and with the addition of beautiful photogravure plates. At this point the first books on artists made their appearance with editions of the great nineteenth-century biographies of Raphael and Michelangelo, both by Grimm, and Velázquez, by Justi. The classic Phaidon book which is familiar to every private and institutional art library emerged in 1937 when large-format books with outstandingly high-quality plates were issued on Van Gogh, Botticelli and the French Impressionists. These titles were freshly commissioned by Horovitz and were aimed at the British and American market. Horovitz was a pioneer of the international co-edition, and it was the large print-runs thus achieved that enabled him to combine low price and high quality.
MOVE TO ENGLAND
The arrival of the Nazis in Vienna forced Horovitz to move the company to England. This was made possible only with the help of the British publisher, Sir Stanley Unwin, who gives a graphic account of how he outwitted the German authorities in his autobiography The Truth about a Publisher. For the next fourteen years Phaidon books were distributed through George Allan and Unwin Ltd. Horovitz and Goldscheider expanded the large-format series to include books on Donatello, Bellini and Michaelangelo, many edited by Goldscheider himself. They were fortunate to have outstanding photogravure printers who kept the standards of reproduction at the highest level. After the war the company launched an innovative programme of scholarly and popular art publishing. This included the monumental critical catalogue of drawings in the royal collection at Windsor Castle, begun in 1942 and continued for the next thirty years, and the elegant 'pocket' series of art history texts (now republished as 'Arts and Letters') appeared.
In 1951 publishing history was made with the first Phaidon Colour Plate book, which for the first time made artists' work readily available in colour to a wide audience at a low price. However, Phaidon's best know title, The Story of Art first published in 1950, had its origins in the mundane: a chance meeting between Horovitz and Ernst H. Gombrich on the top deck of a London bus. A fellow pre-war refugee from Vienna, Gombrich was a research fellow teaching at the Warburg Institute. It was inspiration on the part of Horovitz to persuade him to write a one-volume survey of the history of art, and to encourage a reluctant author to persevere (Horovitz refused to take back the advance when Gombrich got cold feet).
Gombrich is one of a long list of illustrious art historians published by Phaidon. Other eminent authors were Sir Kenneth Clark, Otto Benesch, Bernard Berenson, Anthony Blunt and Rudolf Wittkower. Sir John Pope-Hennessy's incomparable Introduction to Italian Sculpture was re-published in 1996.
MILLER TO MUSTERLIN
Bela Horovitz died suddenly in New York in 1955. The firm continued under the direction of his son-in-law, Harvey Miller, who continued the traditions of scholarship and high quality producing fine monographs and catalogues, expanding the Colour Plate (now Colour Library) series and many of Gombrich's more scholarly titles. Phaidon books continued to be distributed in America and translated into many other languages. In 1967 Phaidon was sold to Frederick Praeger Inc, a subsidiary of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Praeger found the venture unprofitable and in 1974 he sold to Elsevier. Phaidon books continued to be distributed in America and translated into many other languages.
The 1970s saw a great expansion in the number of staff and the number of titles. Like many other publishers at the time Phaidon diversified into a range of areas, took on production and distribution of some Elsevier copyright titles and began to buy in titles from publishers abroad. While many fine books were published the strong and distinguished Phaidon identity had been lost. Elsevier found art books unprofitable and in 1981 an amicable management buy-out was negotiated by four directors under a holding company, Musterlin. By 1986 it felt confident enough to purchase the Lennard and Canongate imprints, but in a climate of high interest rates and tough competition Musterlin declined and was forced into receivership in 1990.
THE REVIVAL OF PHAIDON PRESS
Entrepreneur Richard Schlagman acquired Phaidon Press in 1990 with the objective of re-establishing it as the leading publisher of books on the visual arts. The company returned to London in May 1991, and an energetic programme of new books, revitalising of older standard texts, and the establishment of a global sales and distribution operation, resulted in rapid growth.
The company's success since 1990 was built on a return to Phaidon's traditional values of excellent design and affordable prices. The books became recognised world-wide as being of the highest quality in terms of content, design and production.
The 2005 English publication of The Silver Spoon and the 2006 launch of the 'Wallpaper* City Guides', a major series of travel guides aimed at Phaidon's core audience, successfully extended these skills beyond Phaidon's traditional subject areas.
NEW ERA BEGINS
In October 2012, Phaidon was bought by Leon and Debra Black and their family with the aim of further growing the company for the long term as the world's leading publisher of books in the visual arts, food and children's markets. With Headquarters in London and offices in New York, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Milan and Tokyo, Phaidon operates a global sales and distribution network, selling in over 100 countries and publishing books in English, French, Spanish, Japanese and German, and with an increasing number of publishing partners in further languages. Phaidon's beautiful illustrated books are treasured worldwide for their outstanding content and award winning production. Today, Phaidon has over 1,500 titles in print, featuring the finest creative work from leading innovators in all areas of the arts, architecture, design, photography, cinema, travel and food. Each book is designed meticulously and the content carefully curated and edited to showcase creativity and imagination that can inspire us all.