Writing and art have been intertwined since time immemorial. A work of art or an artist’s life can be the creative jump-start for a novel, or a structural element in the plot.
Here are some works of fiction and nonfiction in which art, artists or works of art (some real, some imaginary) are central to the story. Some offer a masterful re-imagining of the story behind a great piece of art or of the troubled life of a creative genius.
All are ebooks or audiobooks available on Overdrive/Libby or Hoopla.
The Art Fair by David Lipsky
This is a moving story about art and a boy’s love for his mother. Joan Freeley’s life has taken a turn for the worse. Once a happy family woman and a rising star of the New York art scene, she’s now divorced, uninspired, and unable to sell her paintings. Luckily, there is one thing that has remained constant—her loyal son Richard. When Richard moves in with Joan, he sees just how deep her hurt cuts. Drastic measures must be taken if he ever hopes to see his mother return to the promising, vivacious artist she once was. But when no amount of effort seems to lift Joan’s depressive funk, Richard is left to wonder if, in trying to save her, he has sacrificed too much of himself.
The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro
A thrilling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.
Almost twenty-five years after the infamous art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—still the largest unsolved art theft in history—one of the stolen Degas paintings is delivered to the Boston studio of a young artist. Claire Roth has entered into a Faustian bargain with a powerful gallery owner by agreeing to forge the Degas in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But as she begins her work, she starts to suspect that this long-missing masterpiece—the very one that had been hanging at the Gardner for one hundred years—may itself be a forgery.
An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
In the face of the misery in his homeland, the artist Masuji Ono was unwilling to devote his art solely to the celebration of physical beauty. Instead, he put his work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II. Now, as the mature Ono struggles through the aftermath of that war, his memories of his youth and of the “floating world”—the nocturnal world of pleasure, entertainment, and drink—offer him both escape and redemption, even as they punish him for betraying his early promise
The Black Painting by Neil Olson & Emily Woo Zeller AUDIOBOOK
An atmospheric literary mystery about an infamous painting rumored to be cursed—and the family torn apart by its disappearance.
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier & Jenna Lamia AUDIOBOOK
In this richly imagined portrait of the young woman, the story of Griet, a 16-year-old Dutch girl, who inspired one of Vermeer’s most celebrated paintings, the reader is transported to a bygone time and place. History and fiction merge seamlessly in a luminous tale of artistic vision, sensual awakening, and daily life in the Netherlands of the 17th-century.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by a longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into a wealthy and insular art community.
Goodbye Again by Joseph Hone
A discovery in his mother’s attic leads a painter into the dark world of underground art dealings Since childhood, Ben Contini has been enchanted by nudes. The first painting ever to move him was a Modigliani, a portrait of a naked and beautiful reclining woman. Though it scandalized his mother at the time, it inspired him to become an artist; he specializes in portraits but paints nudes whenever he can. Only when his mother dies does Ben realize why Modigliani upset her so much: She had one hidden in her attic. It is the most beautiful painting he has ever seen, but he has no idea how the widow of an Italian refugee could have come upon it. With the help of a mysterious Austrian woman who appears at his mother’s funeral, Ben discovers the painting’s connection to the art thieves of Nazi Germany. The beautiful nude has made a strange journey to the Contini attic, and there are men who would kill to cover her up.
Headlong by Michael Frayn & Frederick Davidson AUDIOBOOK
An unlikely con man wagers wife, wealth, and sanity in pursuit of one of art’s elusive old masters. Martin Clay, an easily distracted philosopher, and his scrupulous art-historian wife are invited to dinner by a boorish local landowner to assess the value of three dusty paintings moldering in the freezing breakfast room. But blocking the soot from the chimney is nothing less, Martin believes, than one of the world’s lost treasures, camouflaged by misattribution and the grime of centuries. Thus begins a wild trail of lies and concealments, soaring hopes and sudden panics, as Martin embarks on an obsessive quest to prove his hunch, separate the painting from its owner, and resolve one of the great mysteries of European art.
The Last Nude by Ellis Avery & Therese Plummer AUDIOBOOK
Paris, 1927, a day in July. A destitute young American named Rafaela Fano gets into the car of a dazzling stranger, the Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka. Struggling to halt a downward slide toward prostitution, Rafaela agrees to model for the artist. The two become lovers, and Rafaela inspires Tamara’s most accomplished and prized works of art, including Beautiful Rafaela, one of the most important nudes of the twentieth century, is a sensuous, transportive story about the unique bond between an artist and her muse.
The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr
Prizewinning author Jonathan Harr embarks on a spellbinding journey to discover the long-lost painting known as The Taking of Christ–its mysterious fate and the circumstances of its disappearance have captivated Caravaggio devotees for years. After Francesca Cappelletti stumbles across a clue in that dusty archive, she tracks the painting across a continent and hundreds of years of history. But it is not until she meets Sergio Benedetti, an art restorer working in Ireland, that she finally manages to assemble all the pieces of the puzzle.
Modern Art by Evelyn Toynton
Inspired by the lives of Jackson Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, this is a riveting tale about sacrifice, betrayal, and memory. Belle Prokoff is a popular figure in the world of art—she’s not only a painter in her own right but the widow of abstract expressionist Clay Madden. In the thirty years since Clay’s fatal spiral into alcoholism, Belle has fought to preserve his legacy while also trying to step outside its shadow. But now, nearing her own demise, Belle must hire live-in help—a young woman whose boyfriend, Paul, is coincidentally Clay-obsessed. As Paul tries to mine his hero’s life story from Belle, she is forced to take a hard look at the paths her life has taken and the ones it has not.
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
A rare 17th century painting, the only known surviving work of Sara de Vos (the first woman to be admitted as a master painter to Amsterdam’s Guild of St. Luke in 1631), At the Edge of a Wood, links three lives, on three continents, over three centuries.
The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham
A novel based on the life of Paul Gauguin, and an ode to the powerful forces behind the creative genius. Charles Strickland is a staid banker, a man of wealth and privilege. He is also a man possessed of an unquenchable desire to create art. As Strickland pursues his artistic vision, he leaves London for Paris and Tahiti, and in his quest makes sacrifices that leaves the lives of those closest to him in tatters. Through Maugham’s sympathetic eye Strickland’s tortured and cruel soul becomes a symbol of the blessing and the curse of transcendent artistic genius, and the cost in humans lives it sometimes demands.
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
The Sultan has commissioned a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land to create a great book celebrating the glories of his realm. Their task: to illuminate the work in the European style. But because figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this commission is a dangerous proposition indeed. The ruling elite therefore mustn’t know the full scope or nature of the project, and panic erupts when one of the chosen miniaturists disappears. The only clue to the mystery–or crime? –lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
A novel about a beautiful young man whose portrait grows old in a locked room while he stays young. When a besotted Basil Hallward paints the beautiful Dorian Gray, he fears that he has put too much of his own soul into the portrait. But it is Dorian, influenced by the fascinating sensualist, Lord Henry, who has gifted the painting something of himself. As the portrait ages, but Dorian does not, he becomes “a face without a heart”, seeking sensation and pleasure at any cost.
-Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian