Art has been an integral component of the human existence, all the way back to the days when our ancestors formed crude paintings on cave walls. It has given a method of expression to countless people across the ages, and moved the hearts and imaginations of so many more.
As a matter of fact, I think it’s safe to say art has played an important role in shaping the world into what it is today, for better or worse. Consequently, I think it’s unsurprising to see just how many books are either dedicated to or revolve around artistic works in one way or another (without mentioning the fact books themselves can very well be art).
Whether they explore the relation between artist and creation or simply use a painting as their focal point, I have always found novels centred on art to have something interesting to offer, at the very least providing a window into the author’s relation to it, and at most giving the kind of story which pushes us to re-evaluate our own connection to art in our lives.
While the good ones, I believe, appear more rarely than in other genres, here you’ll find my assortment of history books revolving around art and literature in one way or another, the ones I believe are worth your valuable time and investment.
“Renoir’s Dancer” by Catherine Hewitt – A Life of Fame and Secrecy
Catherine Hewitt belongs to a special class of authors, one which has taken it upon itself to uncover the history we forgot over time: the biographers.
In her second published book, titled Renoir’s Dancer, she takes us on a journey through the life of Suzanne Valadon.
Born as an illegitimate daughter to a linen maid in the 19th century, she carved her own path through history, becoming a world-famous painting model, and later a celebrated painter in her own right.
“The Collector’s Apprentice” by B. A. Shapiro – An Ode to Obsession
B. A. Shapiro has a talent for taking us on immersive trips throughout history, and with The Collector’s Apprentice she takes us to the unusual period between the two World Wars, more precisely, the summer of 1922.
We are introduced to nineteen-year-old Paulien Mertens, a woman accused for her fiance’s theft of millions, now living in Paris under an assumed identity.
She knows she cannot spend her life in hiding, and thus sets out to prove her innocence, recover her father’s art collection, and get revenge on the man responsible for her predicament.
“The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone – The Grasp for Heaven
Irving Stone had a knack like none other for writing poignant biographical novels which still remained true to their sources, with The Agony and the Ecstasy arguably being his most famous and defining work.
Fictionalizing the life of Michelangelo Buonarroti, the all-time famous artist responsible for many immortal creations, the novel takes us on a grandiose and perilous journey through the Renaissance as the artist tries to find his way in life against all odds.
“A Piece of the World” by Christina Baker Kline – The Muse Behind the Painting
Christina Baker Kline likes to remind us that paintings aren’t merely drawings hanging up in museums, but actual cultural artifacts that have shaped the world in their own ways, often small, but at other times quite significant.
Christina’s World is an iconic painting at the turn of the century, and in her historical fiction novel titled A Piece of the World, Baker Kline tells the story behind the muse which inspired the masterpiece, a simple farm girl named Christina Olson, destined to far greater fame than she could have ever anticipated.
“The Vanishing Velazquez” by Laura Cumming – Chasing a Real Legend
Laura Cumming takes us into the secretive and poorly-known world of rare art collection on the hunt for a famous painting of Britain’s King Charles I, performed in the Spanish court by Velazquez, its official painter.
The painting was thought to have been lost to time and destruction, earning somewhat of a mythical and legendary status, with enough theories and hypotheses to fill entire tomes.
However, in the 19th century a man by the name of John Snare happened upon a curious painting at a small liquidation auction, and that marked the end of his normal life…