There is always a sensuous thrill of recognition when the format of a book matches its subject. This compendium of 19th-century British painting is of a piece with so many of the art works it contains: gorgeous, oversized, singularly committed to detail, rich in scope, endlessly fascinating, and almost exhausting to ponder for any length of time.

With its stunning color reproductions and Lionel Lambourne's brilliantly orchestrated textual accompaniment, Victorian Painting (Phaidon, $59.95, 0714837768) is a study in generosity: Here we experience how art history at its best gives back to us the immediacy and wholeness of art in its fugitive time and place.

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