I am an avid reader and I particularly love to read novels about living the artistic life and the creative process.
If you are so inclined, please leave a comment at the end of the blog and recommend your favorite fictional book about art or artists.
“The Ghost Brush” by Katherine Govier
Published as “The Printmaker’s Daughter” in the US, the first book on my list is about – of course – printmaking. It is the story of Oei, the daughter of the famous Japanese printmaker Hokusai (who created the stunning woodblock print “The Great Wave”). I recently re-blogged a review of this book by author Janie Chang and you can read this more detailed review here.
“Creation” by Katherine Govier
My next book is another novel by Canadian writer Katherine Govier – can you tell I am a fan? This book features John James Audubon in his quest to paint and draw as many bird species as he could find in the North American wilderness. This sumptuous book takes place during the summer of 1833 when Audubon joined a party of young gentlemen sailing the treacherous passage between Newfoundland and Labrador to find remote nesting grounds unseen by other ornithologists. It’s a must-read for artists and bird-lovers alike.
Katherine Govier often writes novels about the creative process. For more on her works, visit her website.
“The Forest Lover” by Susan Vreeland
The title refers to one of Canada’s beloved painters, Emily Carr (1871 – 1945). Carr was a powerful woman artist that left an indelible mark on the Canadian art scene with her fiercely independent approach to life and art. The book shares, among other things, Carr’s fascination with British Columbia’s First Nations people on the cusp of industrialization. It’s a story of life, loss, the creative process and what it means to follow your own heart. You can read more about Emily Carr on my blog here.
“Canoe Lake” by Roy MacGregor
Originally published as “Shorelines”, this is the story of a woman who travels to a small Ontario town to find the mother she never knew, but ends up uncovering a mysterious narrative about three people in the town’s past: a beautiful woman, a shy boy and a painter named Tom who changed their lives. This is a riveting fictional story that weaves and dances around the life and death of Tom Thomson, one of Canada’s most famous painters and a key influencer of Canada’s “Group of Seven”. Thomson mysteriously drowned in 1917 during a canoeing trip in Ontario’s Algonquin Park.
“Luncheon of the Boating Party” by Susan Vreeland
This novel is about Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s famous 1880-81 painting by the same name. The book is narrated by Renoir and seven of the painting’s models as they spend several Sundays drinking and socializing while posing for the painter. This historical novel is created with loving attention to detail, and illuminates what it may have been like to be alive in the Impressionist era.
“Lust for Life” by Irving Stone
This is a sweeping novel about Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, touching on the principal events of the artist’s life and ending with his death at age 37 in Auvers-sur-Oise (France) in 1890. The novel transports you into the last half of the nineteenth century, and Van Gogh — one of my favorite artists — is vividly brought to life in this rich biographical novel.
“The Lyre of Orpheus” by Robertson Davies
Robert Davies is one of my favorite Canadian authors. Although this book is the third volume in Davie’s “Cornish Trilogy” it can be read on its own. The story is about an unfinished opera by E.T.A. Hoffman that is to be completed by a music student as part of a bequest from a charitable foundation. Robertson Davies’ eccentric characters always delight, and the story line is rich with conversations about art, music, theater and myth.
“The Underpainter” by Jane Urquhart
This book won the Canadian Governor General’s Award for Literature in 1997. The story is about 75-year-old painter Austin Fraser as he creates a new series of paintings, and is set between upstate New York and the northern Canadian shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Superior. It’s a sad but beautiful novel about the power of landscape and geography, and a man who devotes his life to art but is unable to connect to those around him.
“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier
This book is recommended on many book lists about art and artists, and is definitely worth reading. It is set in the mid-17th century, and fictionalizes the story behind Dutch painter Jan Vermeer’s painting of the same name. Very little is known about Vermeer or the girl in the painting, and this book masterfully creates a story about who that beautiful girl might be. It’s a lovely account of a painting master who works from the second floor of his home, while the busy life of his Dutch family (his wife had 15 children!) unfolds around him.
“An Object of Beauty” by Steve Martin
This is the story of Lacey Yeager, who is groomed at Sotheby’s and climbs the social ladder in the modern art scene of New York. Steve Martin (yes, the comedian Steve Martin, who is also an accomplished writer) offers a wonderful novel about wealth, prestige and greed. The book is also enhanced by reproductions of famous paintings, and is an intriguing look inside Manhattan’s art world.
Although there are many lists on books about art or artists, here is a link to “Good Reads” 200+ books in this subject area.