35+ Novels With Art and Artists (updated)

Ready to dive into some fun fiction about art and artists? I have some novels for your summer reading. (I say your but this list is as much for me as it is for you.)

The list below is broken down into 4 categories.

  • My Favorites
  • Others I Recommend
  • Recommended by Others (in order of my interest)
  • Vote on your favs or add to the list in the comments

I am not a book reviewer. I don’t have any fancy words about these choices, and I’ve not been good about keeping good notes.

When I read fiction—which I’m trying to do more of since I discovered it helps combat dementia—I look for books that revolve around art or artists. 

Of course, not all fiction I read has to do with art. This year I have enjoyed Mad Honey (Jody Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan) and the audio book The Dutch House (Anne Patchett, narrated by Tom Hanks), among others. 

You will notice a recurring theme: One reason I keep these on my shelf is that I need to read them again to remember why I liked them so much. 😂

My plan is to come back in here and update the post when I get to the reading or re-reading of art novels. I can also add your choices if you leave them in the comments. (As soon as I updated this post, two more winners came in, thus the + in the title.)

Please note: All Amazon links here are affiliate links. I am grateful when you click and purchase as I earn a small commission. 

My Favorite Novels

about Art or Artists (so far)

L’Origine: The Secret Life of the World’s Most Erotic Masterpiece

by Lilianne Milgrom

This book is a novel that revolves around Courbet’s scandalous painting, L’Origine du Monde.

Lilianne, who is also an accomplished artist, was my guest on episode 87 of The Art Biz and I can say without any prejudice that I loved this book.

L'Origine by Lilianne Milgrom

The Swan Thieves

by Elizabeth Kostova

From my short notes in 2010: “Slow start. Very long. Many artist stereotypes, but I loved it. Couldn’t put it down toward the end.”

To this I will add that I kept my copy so I could re-read it, as I often do with books I have loved. The short chapters make it easy to pick up and put down.

Spending

by Mary Gordon

Middle-aged female painter is offered financial freedom from an admirer who serves as her muse. Loved it so much that I have read it twice and know I’ll read it again. Themes of creative freedom, sex, control, and power. 

Notes From An Exhibition

by Patrick Gale

I love the way this is organized—as if we are reading the labels next to the artwork in a retrospective.

You get a real sense of what it is like to be an aging artist.

The American Painter Emma Dial: A Novel

by Samantha Peale

Another seemingly true picture of what it’s like to be a working artist. Emma Dial is stuck as a studio assistant for a powerful male artist—unable to make her own work. Makes you pissed off at the male-female / mentor-assistant power dynamics.

Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him

by Danielle Ganek

The title of this book is the title of a painting at the center of the story. I checked it out from the library, but quickly ordered my own copy because I knew I was going to want to reread it. 

To the extent that this artworld has a sense of humor about itself, it’s in this book.

Other Novels

about Art or Artists I have read and can recommend

An Object of Beauty

by Steve Martin

 

The Art Forger

by B.A. Shapiro

 

Sacré Bleu

by Christopher Moore

The Great Man

by Kate Christensen

Bluebeard

by Kurt Vonnegut

Recommended by Others

These novels about art or artists were recommended in the comments, on my Facebook page by two or more people, or inside the Art Biz Connection community. I have put them in semi-order of my interest in reading.

The Underpainter

by Jane Urquhart

The Stonecarvers

by Jane Urquhart

Oil and Marble

by Stephanie Storey

The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

Shattered

by Dick Francis

To the Hilt

by Dick Francis

The Serpent Garden

by Judith Merkle Riley

The Way to Paradise

by Mario Vargas Llosa

Lust for Life

by Irving Stone

Girl with a Pearl Earring

by Tracy Chevalier

Vote

I’d love to continue adding to this reading list for artist and art enthusiasts.

Please consider leaving a comment for the following:

  • Vote for your favorite(s) and tell us why.
  • Tell us why you didn’t like one or the other.
  • Add any art-related fiction I missed. (Links are fine.)
 
 
This post was first published on June 10, 2013. It has been updated with comments intact.

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96 thoughts on “35+ Novels With Art and Artists (updated)”

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Right after I got my copy in the mail, my husband reminded me that he had a copy of it. I guess I’ll be giving one away as a gift.

  1. To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf. Lily Briscoe is a painter whose inner dialogue, stream of consciousness, and point of view are central to the narrative of the story, though not the outward action/drama of it. Through her character, Woolf brilliantly and eloquently portrays the inner struggles, inspirations and moods of a creative and introverted personality.

  2. I’m reading the Art Forger right now. Wasn’t too sure about it at first, but now I can’t wait to get to the end and see how all turns out. And for a non-painter, I find the descriptions of process nice, too.

  3. Ann Marie Scott

    For really light FUN reading I love all the Hailey Lind Art mysteries: Arsenic and Old Paint, Feint of Art, Brush with Death, Shooting Gallery…they are just terrific. Wish she would write more!

  4. Lust for Life and the Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone. highly recommend them 🙂 And thank you, Alyson for a great list for summer!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Those are pretty dense, aren’t they, Yuri? His other one (about Pissarro) is Depths of Glory, which has been on my shelf for decades. Really. Decades! Never read it.

    2. I read “Depths of Glory” and really enjoyed it. I think it was revealing for me to think of how beloved the impressionists are now, but during their lives, they had very little recognition and struggled so much. Big book, but I liked it.

  5. How about, “The American Painter Emma Dial,” by Samantha Peale? She assisted, in real life, for Jeff Koons before novelizing the experience.

  6. Thanks Alyson – great list! I will have to pick up some of these. I have read An Object Of Beauty and really enjoyed it too. I wanted to add “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri. Amazing tidbits about art and life. I am currently reading it as part of a Book Club for artists that I started for anyone who may want to join us at http://anartistslife.net/book-club/

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Leah: Not a work of fiction, but definitely must-have. And I hope others check out your book club.

  7. I read a book loosely based on the Canadian painter Emily Carr a number of years ago. I wish I could remember the title! I think it had the word “Forest” in it. Has anyone else read that one? I remembered liking it. I feel silly posting it, when I can’t remember the title, but I am hoping someone else will have read it.
    Also, Ursula Hegi’s book Stones from the River. The main character isn’t an artist, but I vaguely remember there being an artist in the book. It’s a good read, in any case.

  8. just finished How Georgia Became O’Keeffe by Karen Karbo…loved it, i learned a bit more about O’Keeffe and Karbos writing style is lively and funny! A very fast read!

  9. About a year ago I read a fascinating true story about an FBI agent that headed a division to catch art thieves and forgers. I can’t remember the title or author’s name but will do some research. His training in art was unique also.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Yep. Is it The Rescue Artist? (Non-fiction is a different post and much vaster a topic!)

  10. One author that was mentioned at least twice on that fb thread that you didn’t include was Jane Urquhart. “The Underpainter” and “The Stone Carvers” are just two brilliant literary fiction offerings by an author that is a poet and married to an artist – so artists appear often in her work. In my opinion, she is one of the best. The writing is artful and moving.
    “The Stone Carvers” was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, was long listed for the Mann Booker Prize and “the Underpainter” won the Giller Prize. I highly recommend both having read many of the suggested titles.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Michelle: Thanks for adding this! I assure you that my oversight was unintentional. There were a lot of comments on that post and I tried to be thorough, but apparently failed.

  11. Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut, Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him by Danielle Ganek, The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd, Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, and a really beautiful book – Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman. There is also a good young adult graphic novel series called The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg.

  12. Lots of enticing ideas from everyone. Here’s mine: ‘The Way to Paradise: A Novel’ by Mario Vargas Llosa. About the life of Gauguin and his grandmother the social feminist Flora Tristan

  13. If you like mysteries, Dick Francis has a couple of books that weave artists into the horse racing world – Shattered features a glass blower and To the Hilt features a painter who lives in Scotland.

  14. Pingback: Summer Reading List: Art-Inspired Novels for Everyone! « Collage Your World

    1. I love The Agony and the Extasy. Has a lot of interesting passages about what goes through the great artist’s mind.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Love having that confirmation. Thanks, Leslie! And to Gihan for seconding A&E.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Ooo. Thanks for that, Mindy! Brian Allen recommended a different Geraldine Brooks book below.

    1. The books listed at https://artbizsuccess.com/summer-reading
      w/ headline 35+ Novels With Art and Artists: Summer Reading
      are
      He Dared to Paint the Truth
      L’Origine
      The Swan Thieves
      Spending
      An Object of Beauty
      The Art Forger
      Sacre Bleu

      followed by:
      Recommended by Others
      These novels about art or artists were recommended in the comments, on my Facebook page by two or more people, or inside the Art Biz Connection community. I have put them in semi-order of my interest in reading.

      Currently reading the library book on Hoopla. ( nothing clicks here)
      Hardcover has been on my shelf for years. (nothing clicks here)
      Must read from Jeff Koons’ former assistant. (“Must read” is a link to NYTimes review)
      A trail of recommendations led me to this one. (“this one” is a link to NYTimes review)

      there’s a great lot of space after that, before something else & the comments section.
      Perhaps it’s a browser issue – I’m on Firefox- anyway, that’s what the page gave me!

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Kate: Do you by chance have Amazon ads blocked? That might be the issue.

  15. and I only want to read the list because A) I love books every bit as much as the other arts . . . and B) I don’ want to duplicate titles with my own addtions! I’ll mention Victoria Finlay’s “Color – A Natural History of the Palette” since it’s non-fiction. And where to classify “Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper”? Author Harriett Chessman calls it a novel, but it feels rather like looking at a biographical moment, given the real characters. Also a beautiful book in itself, not just the writing.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Kate: Lydia Cassatt book is under the last big group with all of the Amazon links. I think they would call it an historical novel.

      The Finlay book belongs on a different post, but I agree that it’s a good one.

  16. As a letterpress printer and book arts person, I can recommend 2 novels: 1) “Gutenberg’s Apprentice,” by Alix Christie; about the life and times of 15th century Germany and the development of printing from moveable type in Europe. Christie trained as a printer so her process descriptions are very good. I enjoyed being inserted into the ferment of the times – what daily life must have been like then, and the socio-political forces swirling around. Birthing a technology can be painful…
    2) “People of the Book,” by Geraldine Brooks; about the illuminated manuscript “Sarajevo Haggadah” and its journey over the centuries through societies and threats to its survival. I enjoyed the depictions of people and ways of life, with a common theme of reverence for language and the written word. It’s a suspense novel, really – what will happen next to the book?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Brian: Fascinating addition! I love illuminated manuscripts and will have to look that up.

    2. ah, the letterpress! I grew up with one, courtesy of my father – I’ll definitely find your suggested “Gutenberg’s Apprentice,” – thank you!!!
      and, yes, “People f the Book” is an astounding read – one of my all-time favorites.

  17. I feel for Rachelle and Joanie, so at the risk of joining them I recommend The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfus. Not technically speaking about art or artists, but an incisive glimpse into the world of an artist.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Janey: 😂 They’re both doing okay. The books they gave me were not about art or artists. Thanks for adding to the list!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Oh, fun, Jennifer! Looks like you’re mixing up fiction and nonfiction. Years and years ago I ran a Twitter/Facebook book club in the summers. I know we read Joan Mitchell bio and maybe De Kooning.

  18. Hi Alyson,
    I have some other recommendations for novels about art and art business.
    1. “Alena”, by Rachel Pastan, Riverhead Books,2014. If you have ever read or seen the movie of “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier, you will enjoy this book. The author did a great job following the plot but placing the setting of the story in the modern art scene. The writing is lovely.
    A young woman, befriended by an older man at the Venice Biennale, is offered the job of her dreams at an avant-garde gallery on Cape Code.
    The woman, Alena, whom she is replacing has disappeared, but left a gigantic hold on all the gallery staff and the artists who show their work in the gallery. There is a mystery, gallery intrigue, and personal relationships that add to this wonderful novel. I have read it twice and enjoyed both readings.
    2. Still Life, by Louise Penny, Minotaur Books , 2005. This is the first book in a series of mysteries about a tiny town in Canada called Three Pines.
    Several characters in the series are artists, and the stories revolve around these characters. The writing is delightful and the characters are three dimensional. The art created by one of the characters in this book leads to the solution to the murder. There is also an exposition of what it means to be an artist.

    Happy reading!
    Elise Nicely

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Elise: Thanks for those! I love Louise Penny. I know A.S. Byatt also wrote a book called Still Life, but I never could get through it.

  19. What a great list! Thank you! I enjoyed The Art Forger, and it reminded me about a part of the art world that I despise and am thankful not to be involved in.
    The Passion of Artemesia and The Goldfinch are two of my favorite books. The former because it’s so fascinating to think about what the life of a female artist was like historically. The latter because Donna Tartt is a favorite writer of mine-I just really enjoy the way she tells stories.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Lea: Thanks for chiming in. I think I’ve been intimidated by The Goldfinch. I’m glad to hear how much you enjoyed it.

    2. Alyson, I too was intimated by The Goldfinch but I decided to listen to it while I painted my dining room and I was so glad I did, it’s an amazing tale, she’s an excellent writer (if a little dark, especially in her Secret History).

  20. L’Œuvre, sometimes called The Masterpiece by Emile Zola. is a fictional account of Zola’s friendship with Paul Cézanne. It also offers a fairly accurate portrayal of the Parisian art world in the mid 19th century. It is believed that this book ended the friendship between the author and the artist in real life.

  21. The Stonor Eagles by William Horwood is one of those books that I will keep forever. Its about the struggle to find & accept your true self/voice.
    The Last Painting Of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith is about a female painter in a time when painting is a man’s job & about a skilled forger.
    The Lady And The Unicorn by Tracey Chebalier is a beautiful journey back in time that gives an insight into the creation of these exquisite tapestries.
    Mr Mac And Me by Esther Freud is about Charles Rennie Macintosh during the war years.
    Book Of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader will make each artisticly inclined person appreciate how easy it is to buy a tube of paint these days. Fabulous early London setting.
    The Birth Of Venus by Sarah Dunant will whisk you back in time to an Italy where women werent supposed to paint.
    The Birdmans Wife by Melissa Golding is about the exquisitely skilled artist Elizabeth Gould whose husband was credited for a lot of her work painting & printing Australian birds. This is an excellent book that I have in hardback & hope my future Granddaughters may one day read.

  22. Thanks for the list!
    My input –
    Somerset Maugham- The Moon and Sixpence – top of my list. A must read classic about great passion, beauty and suffering, loosely based on the life of Gauguin.
    Ross King wrote a few delightful historic novels, such as The Judgment of Paris (about the rise of Impressionism), Brunelleschi’s Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, & more which I haven’t read yet.

  23. So many great books mentioned here. How about A Piece of the World: A Novel, by Christina Baker Kline? It is historical fiction about Christina Olson of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings.

  24. Lots of exciting-looking titles I haven’t come across before!
    I vote for The Goldfinch because it’s just a great story and The Way to Paradise because the life of Gauguin’s suffragette grandmother was fascinating. (I read it in Spanish so can’t speak to the English version.) And, as I mentioned above, To the Lighthouse is a classic. Where the Crawdads Sing was a surprise book for me last year. Very moving!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Thanks for voting Cherry. I have been so intimidated by The Goldfinch. Gauguin has been in so much hot water these days that I’d tend to avoid that one, but the focus on his grandmother is more than tempting.

  25. Thanks for this great list! I’m on a mission to read art related books as well, and two I’ve read over the last year or so really stood out. One was called Self Portrait With Boy by Rachel Lyon. The other was Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder. They’re fiction, and both were slightly disturbing, but also gripping. Definitely worth reading when you’re in the mood for a page turner!

    1. Two others I forgot about:
      Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is an engaging novel about three best-friend video game designers, their creative journeys, and their life/relationship journeys.
      No Two Persons, by Erica Bauermeister is focused on the art of writing – kind of. Each person the book (written by the main character) touches is affected differently, but each time it does, it changes the person. Many of these characters are artists in their own right; two I distinctly remember are a sculpture artist and a voice artist, it’s interesting to think about how our visual art might take on a similar role as the book in the novel.

    1. Mary: Thank you for this! I’m looking forward to updating the post and adding it to the ever-growing list.

  26. joanie bauer hupp

    i just finished reading “The Secret Life of Sunflowers” by Marta Molnar… a truly lovely book
    about vincent & theo van gogh, and theo’s wife who ends up with all his paintings… and how hard
    she works to get his work accepted and selling…

  27. May I offer two more fiction books about artists and galleries? They are “Still Life” by Louise penny and “Alena” by Rachel Pasten.

    I have printed your list and I am ready to read!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Elise: Thanks for those! I used to read a lot of Louise Penny, but grew away from her at some point. Always good to hear from you.

  28. As you know I am a daily reader – these are two books I have read TWICE – SPRING CANNOT BE CANCELLED – DAVID HOCKNEY IN NORMANDY by Martin Gayford (who I know you love), and David Hockney – it is just delightful and so insightful – and it is based on correspondence during the pandemic. The other one is EVERYTHING SHE TOUCHED – The Life of Ruth Asawa by Marilyn Chase – I fell in love with her works on a trip to NY – but she was so much more than an artist – she was an educator, an activist – after spending part of her childhood in a Japanese Internment Camp. I will probably read them again in a few years – they are like old friends now!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Vickie: I will add these to the nonfiction post if I ever get that updated. I love everything by Martin Gayford.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Antje: Thanks for that! That book, The Forest Lover, is also by Vreeland. And The Passion of Artemesia.

  29. Ninth Street Women
    Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art
    By Mary Gabriel · 2018
    This was a wonderful (albeit very long) book that follows the lives of these pioneering women artists and the time in history of the modern art movement in NYC. It also includes many other artists, gallerists and writers of the time period. I loved this book.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Yes, that’s a GREAT book! It belongs in my article about nonfiction and will surely be there when I update it. Thanks, Birdy.

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