Quite a few years ago, my mom loaned me a book on tape that she had checked out from the library. It was Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. I was familiar with the painting by Vermeer, of course, but wasn’t sure to expect from the book.
As I popped in the tape, the story transported me from the back room of my tiny house to 17th century Holland. It told the fictional story behind the famous painting, as seen through the eyes of Vermeer’s maid. I found the book thoroughly enjoyable from a storytelling perspective. More than that, though, it made me look at art in a new way. I suddenly found myself wondering about the stories behind many famous paintings.
A few weeks ago I randomly ran across an image of Girl with the Pearl Earring while I was doing an unrelated Google search. It reminded me of the book, which in turn sparked the idea for this blog post. I figured if there was one good book that had been inspired by a famous painting or artist, there must be others.
After a little bit of digging, I was excited to discover that there are tons of novels inspired by art. I have read a few of these, but many of them are new to me. I definitely plan on reading them all, though. I’m excited to see how art inspired these authors!
I’ve include a brief description of each book, along with a link to the book on Amazon. If you decide to purchase any of the books though my links I will receive a small commission on the sale. I hope you enjoy this list, and that you find some fun new books to read!
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Set in 17th century Holland, this book by by Tracy Chevalier tells the fictional story behind Vermeer’s famous painting. As I mentioned before, this is the book that inspired this blog post. The story, told from the perspective of Griet, a 16-year-old girl who goes to work as a servant in Vermeer’s house, paints an interesting picture of what life might have been like during that time period. It also creates a feasible story behind how this now-famous painting could have come into being. Overall, it’s a really fun read, and I would encourage you to check it out.
Read reviews on Amazon: Girl With a Pearl Earring: A Novel
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
Harriet Scott Chessman wrote this book from the perspective of Lydia Cassatt, the terminally ill sister of artist Mary Cassatt. Chessman drew inspiration for the story from five portraits of Lydia that Mary had painted over the years. From the reviews, it sounds like Edgar Degas also makes an appearance in the story, which is certainly plausible since he and Mary Cassatt were friends. This sounds like an interesting read, and it’s definitely tops on my list.
Read reviews on Amazon: Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper
Degas and the Little Dancer by Laurence Anholt
Although this is a children’s book, I’ve decided to include it in the list anyway. Inspired by Degas’ The Little Dancer, this book tells the story of a young girl who wants to be dancer, but whose family can’t afford the lessons for her. To earn money for her classes, she becomes an artist’s model for Degas. Eventually, she has to give up her dream of dancing because even her meager modeling income is not enough to cover the cost of the classes. Later, she and her family are invited to the opening of Degas’ show, where she is surprised by a sculpture of herself — “The Little Dancer”
Read reviews on Amazon: Degas and the Little Dancer
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
No list of books inspired by paintings would be complete without mentioning The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Although there is far more to the story than a simple painting, one of the key elements in the book is da Vinci’s famous painting, The Last Supper. The book points out interesting details in the painting that seem to hint at a major conspiracy. If you enjoy fast-paced thrillers and conspiracy theories and haven’t checked this book out yet, it’s definitely worth a read.
Read reviews on Amazon: The Da Vinci Code
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
This novel by Susan Vreeland is drawn from Renoir’s famous 1881 painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party. The painting depicts some of Renoir’s real-life friends dining along the Seine river in Chatou, France. Vreeland’s novel, told from the perspective of Renoir and some of the models, focuses on the story leading up to the creation of the famous painting. Although fictional, the novel is filled with historical facts and gives an interesting glimpse of life during the time of the impressionist painters.
Read reviews on Amazon: Luncheon of the Boating Party
The Moon and Sixpence by William Somerset Maugham
Unlike the other books in this list, The Moon and Sixpence was inspired by an artist rather than a single painting. The book is a fictionalized biography of the artist Paul Gauguin. Charles Strickland, the main character of the book who is modeled after Gauguin, leaves his career as an investment banker and abandons his wife and child to pursue a life of painting. Although the book was inspired by Gauguin, the author does not bother with trying to tell every detail of his life in a true biographical sense. Instead, the focus of the book is on the nature of the artist himself — someone who was so obsessed with art that he would give up everything to pursue it.
Read reviews on Amazon: The Moon and Sixpence
The Golden Tulip by Rosalind Laker
If you are a fan of historical romances, you may enjoy The Golden Tulip by Rosalind Laker. Set in 17th century Holland, the book tells the story of a Francesca, a talented young girl who obtains an apprenticeship with Johannes Vermeer in Delft. There, as her artistic talent grows, she meets and falls in love with a tulip grower named Pieter. The book has a lot of interesting historical information, including a glimpse of what it might have been like to live during tulip mania, a period of Dutch history where the price of a single tulip bulb jumped to more than 10 times the average annual income of a skilled craftsperson. Vermeer and Rembrandt both make appearances as characters in the book, making it an interesting read for anyone who enjoys art.
Read reviews on Amazon: The Golden Tulip: A Novel