Books written on real-life artworks and artists

Sometimes the artwork transcends the boundary of the canvas. The other times, the artist transcends her life to be like art. In these books, writers have written about their fascination with both.
art art-forms life-of-artists artists art-studio
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The Last Nude

by Ellis Avery

About the book:  “As erotic and powerful as the paintings that inspired it.”—Emma Donoghue, author of Room Paris, 1927. In the heady years before the crash, financiers drape their mistresses in Chanel, while expatriates flock to the avant-garde bookshop Shakespeare and Company. One day in July, a young American named Rafaela Fano gets into the car of a coolly dazzling stranger, the Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka. Struggling to halt a downward slide toward prostitution, Rafaela agrees to model for the artist, a dispossessed Saint Petersburg aristocrat with a murky past. The two become lovers, and Rafaela inspires Tamara's most iconic Jazz Age images, among them her most accomplished-and coveted-works of art. A season as the painter's muse teaches Rafaela some hard lessons: Tamara is a cocktail of raw hunger and glittering artifice. And all the while, their romantic idyll is threatened by history's darkening tide. Inspired by real events in de Lempicka's history, The Last Nude is a tour de force of historical imagination. Ellis Avery gives the reader a tantalizing window into a lost Paris, an age already vanishing as the inexorable forces of history close in on two tangled lives. Spellbinding and provocative, this is a novel about genius and craft, love and desire, regret and, most of all, hope that can transcend time and circumstance.

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The Painter of Shanghai

by Jennifer Cody Epstein

About the book:  In 1913 an orphan girl boards a steamship bound for Wuhu in South East China. Left in the hands of her soft-hearted but opium-addicted uncle she is delivered to The Hall of Eternal Splendour which, with its painted faces and troubling cries in the night, seems destined to break her spirit. And yet the girl survives and one day hope appears in the unlikely form of a customs inspector, a modest man resistant to the charms of the corrupt world that surrounds him but not to the innocent girl who stands before him. From the crowded rooms of a small-town brothel, heavy with the smoke of opium pipes and the breath of drunken merchants, to the Bohemian hedonism of Paris and the 1930s studios of Shanghai, Jennifer Epstein’s first novel, based on a true story, is an exquisite evocation of a fascinating time and place, with a breathtaking heroine at its heart.

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Madame Picasso

by Anne Girard

About the book:  While working as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, Eva Gouel catches the attention of Pablo Picasso and, drawn into this brilliant but eccentric artist's world, has a torrid affair that evolves into what will become the first great love of his life. Original.

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The Agony And The Ecstasy

by Irving Stone

About the book:  Irving Stone's powerful and passionate biographical novel of Michelangelo. His time: the turbulent Renaissance, the years of poisoning princes, warring popes, the all-powerful Medici family, the fanatic monk Savonarola. His loves: the frail and lovely daughter of Lorenzo de Medici; the ardent mistress of Marco Aldovrandi; and his last love - his greatest love - the beautiful, unhappy Vittoria Colonna. His genius: a God-driven fury from which he wrested the greatest art the world has ever known. Michelangelo Buonarotti, creator of David, painter of the Sistine ceiling, architect of the dome of St Peter's, lives once more in the tempestuous, powerful pages of Irving Stone's marvellous book.

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Girl With a Pearl Earring

by Tracy Chevalier

About the book:  An international bestseller with over two million copies sold, this is a story of an artist’s desire for beauty and the ultimate corruption of innocence.

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Girl Reading

by Katie Ward

About the book:  This stunningly original, kaleidoscopic novel is an inspired celebration of women reading and the artists who have caught them in the act—“a vivid portrait of a timeless subject” (Minneapolis Star Tribune). A young orphan poses for a Renaissance maestro in medieval Siena. A servant girl in seventeenth-century Amsterdam snatches a moment away from her work to lose herself in tales of knights and battles. An eighteenth-century female painter completes a portrait of a deceased poetess for her lover. A Victorian medium poses with a book in one of the first photographic studios. A girl suffering her first heartbreak witnesses intellectual and sexual awakening during the Great War. A young woman reading in a bar catches the eye of a young man who takes her picture. And in the not-so-distant future a woman navigates a cyber-reality that has radically altered the way people experience art and life. Each chapter of Katie Ward’s novel immerses readers into the intimate tales behind the creation of seven portraits by artists, ranging from Simone Martini to Pieter Janssens Elinga to a Flickr photographer. In gorgeous prose, Ward explores our points of connection, our relationship to art, the history of women, and the importance of reading. Dazzlingly inventive, this is “a fascinating testament to the universal themes of art and literature and the spirit of femininity” (BookPage).

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The Moon and Sixpence

by W. Somerset Maugham

About the book:  "Witty, compelling." — The Boston Globe. Gripped by an overwhelming obsession, Charles Strickland, a conventional London stockbroker, decides in midlife to desert his wife, family, business, and civilization for his art. One of Maugham's most popular works, The Moon and Sixpence is a riveting story about an uncompromising and self-destructive man who forsakes wealth and comfort to pursue the life of a painter. Drifting from Paris to Marseilles, Strickland eventually settles in Tahiti, takes a mistress, and in spite of poverty and a long, terminal illness, produces his most passionate and mysterious works of art. Loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin, Maugham's timeless masterpiece is storytelling at its best — an insightful work focusing on artistic fixation that propels the artist beyond the commonplace into the selfish realm of genius.

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Headlong

by Michael Frayn

About the book:  An unlikely con man wagers wife, wealth, and sanity in pursuit of an elusive Old Master. Invited to dinner by the boorish local landowner, Martin Clay, an easily distracted philosopher, and his art-historian wife are asked to assess three dusty paintings blocking the draught from the chimney. But hiding beneath the soot is nothing less-Martin believes-than a lost work by Bruegel. So begins a hilarious trail of lies and concealments, desperate schemes and soaring hopes as Martin, betting all that he owns and much that he doesn't, embarks on a quest to prove his hunch, win his wife over, and separate the painting from its owner. In Headlong, Michael Frayn, "the master of what is seriously funny" (Anthony Burgess), offers a procession of superbly realized characters, from the country squire gone to seed to his giddy, oversexed young wife. All are burdened by human muddle and human cravings; all are searching for a moral compass as they grapple with greed, folly, and desire. And at the heart of the clamor is Breugel's vision, its dark tones warning of the real risks of temptation and obsession. With this new novel, Michael Frayn has given us entertainment of the highest order. Supremely wise and wickedly funny, Headlong elevates Frayn into the front rank of contemporary novelists.

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The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

About the book:  WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE "The Goldfinch is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind....Donna Tartt has delivered an extraordinary work of fiction."--Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review 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 his 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 the underworld of art. As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love--and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

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