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Fictional Books About Artists and Their Muses

“The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

Followers of this blog will probably have noticed tha I don't read much non-fiction. I do, however, enjoy fiction inspired by real people or events. I am a painter and was a docent in an art museum, so I am often especially drawn to novels about art or artists and what potentially inspired them. I've compiled a short list of some of my favorite, which I thnk will appeal to fellow fans of art and historical fiction.

Happy reading!

“Warp threads are thicker than the weft, and made of a coarser wool as well. I think of them as like wives. Their work is not obvious - all you can see are the ridges they make under the colorful weft threads. But if they weren't there, there would be no tapestry. Georges would unravel without me.” ― Tracy Chevalier, The Lady and the Unicorn

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

This is by the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, but in my opinion, it is the superior of the novels. It's clever and humorous and taught me about an art - tapestry - I knew next to nothing about.

“In the end, it's only the moments that we have, the kiss on the palm, the joint wonder at the furrowed texture of a fir trunk or at the infinitude of grains of sand in a dune. Only the moments.” ― Susan Vreeland, Girl in Hyacinth Blue

The Girl in the Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

Vreeland has writen so many wonderful novels inspired by artists, but this short read is my favorite. It follows a painting by Vermeer as it changes hands and tells the stories of its owners. Another good one by this author is The Passion of Artemisia.

“Impropriety is the soul of wit.” ― W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence

The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham

Though The Painted Veil and Of Human Bondage are likely better known books by Maugham, I also enjoyed this one, a riff on Paul Gauguin and his arrogance and talent. Clever and very readable!

“Although I maintain that if she were more perfect, she would be less interesting.” ― Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hallby Anne Brontë

Okay, so this isn't technically about any real artist, but it is one of my all-time favorites, and I will take any excuse to include it:-) It features Helen Graham, who is an artist with quite a history. It's a wonderful novel and it tells the story of a woman who has to use her talent to support herself and her son after circumstances forced her to seek out independence.

“Reading has always been the largest and most irreplaceable pleasure for Vincent; reading about other people's successes and failures, joys and sufferings seemed to bury his own failures.” ― Irving Stone, Lust for Life

Lust for Life by Irving Stone

Yes, this is a bit of a tome, but well worth it if the enigmatic, troubled and creative artists Vincent Van Gogh intrigues you as he does me. Stone sketches a fascinating portrait of this man (pun intended), who, in his lifetime, has such limited success and so many personal ups and downs that eventually resulted in his death. He has also written a similarly hefty book about Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstasy, which I have yet to read.

"Across the continent, priceless paintings were disappearing like postcards plucked from the rack of a sidewalk kiosk."

-Daniel Silva, The Rembrandt Affair

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva

This is the tenth book in the Gabriel Allon series, and I'll be honest, I have read all seventeen. They are a bit of a guilty pleasure, but they are a touch cleverer than your run-of-the-mill thriller (or so I tell myself). Allon is an artist and an art restorer and, you know, a master spy in his down time. A Rembrandt painting has been stolen, and the theft takes Allon all over the globe and onto the track of a far greater mystery.