Hero photograph
The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius
Photo by source: Wikipedia


Maureen Brook —

Books and art are both cultural barometers. They are a reflection of current society, connection and beauty.

“It is with the reading of books the same as with looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, with assurance, admire what is beautiful.” Vincent Van Gogh. 

Many novelists are influenced by great works of art. The following books are based on art, real or imaginary:

Girl with a Pearl Earring.  Tracy Chevalier
Seventeenth century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer's household features large in this novel based on the painting of the same name.  Trouble ensues when Griet, the main character, is hired as a maid.  Vermeer discovers that Griet has an eye for art and secretly asks her to run errands and perform tasks for him, such as mixing his paints and acting as a substitute model.

The Birth of Venus: Love and Death in Florence. Sarah Dunant
Fifteen-year-old Alessandra Cecchi is drawn to a young painter whom her father commissions to decorate the walls of the family's Florentine palazzo.  The relationship is thwarted, however, by Alessandra's parents, who arrange her marriage to an older, wealthy man.   The story is told against the backdrop of political upheaval in Renaissance Florence, with the hardline influence of Friar Savonarola, who called for the destruction of secular art and culture.

Keeping the World Away.  Margaret Forster
Lost, found, stolen, strayed, sold, fought over...  this novel follows the fictional adventures, over a hundred years, of a painting by Gwen John,  and the women whose lives it touches. From struggling artist Gwen who becomes Rodin's lover, to Charlotte, an Edwardian girl who is passionate about art.

Killing Commendatore.  Haruki Murakami
A recently separated portrait painter in Tokyo is living in the mountain home of Tomohiko Amada, a famous artist.  He finds a previously unseen painting in the attic, called Killing Commendatore, depicting a scene from Don Giovanni,  and thereby, unleashes a series of mysterious events.

The Improbabability of Love.  Hannah Rothschild
Annie McDee, recovering from a relationship break-up, is searching for a gift for an unsuitable lover in a second-hand shop.  She buys a grimy painting and prepares a meal, but her lover fails to arrive. It transpires that Annie has bought a lost masterpiece by Antoine Watteau called "The Improbability of Love".  Annie soon finds herself drawn unwillingly into the London art world, with many interested parties wanting to get their hands on the painting.

How to be Both. Ali Smith
The story is told from two perspectives: those of George, a  16-year-old girl living in contemporary Cambridge, and then time-travels back to 15th century Ferrara in Northern Italy.  This story is told by Francesco del Cossa, an Italian renaissance artist.   George and Francesco make a connection via art. Two versions of the book were published simultaneously, one in which George's story appears first, the other in which Francesco's comes first.  

The Goldfinch.  Donna Tartt
Thirteen-year-old Theo Decker's life is changed forever during a visit with his mother to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see an exhibition of Dutch masterpieces, including a favourite of his, 'The Goldfinch'.  A bomb explodes in the museum and Theo's mother is killed.  During the ensuing chaos Theo takes the Goldfinch painting,  and is eventually taken in by the family of a wealthy friend.  As Theo's life takes him into a world of crime, the painting becomes his sole source of hope.


The Signature of All Things. Elizabeth Gilbert
The Blazing World. Siri Hustvedt
The Painter's Daughter. Julie Klassen
The Clockmaker's Daughter. Kate Morton
Painter to the King. Amy Sackville
The Fortunate Ones. Ellen Umansky