6 Best Fictional Art-History Novels for a Beautiful Springtime Escape
We’ve found out exactly where all the best art galleries are and have our book club game on lock. So it only follows that we’re currently craving some serious literary-artsy action between the pages of our next read. Art-history fiction is a super-niche genre that relies on historical fact to bring famous artists, paintings, and events to life through embellished storytelling. It’s fun, informative, and totally intoxicating. So grab a glass of your favorite under-$15-bottle (hey, these starving artists feel you!), and get cozy with a story inspired by your favorite creative.
<em><a data-affiliate-link="" href="https://www.amazon.com/Sunflowers-Sheramy-Bundrick/dp/0061765279?tag=bm01f-20" rel="noskim" target="_blank">Sunflowers</a></em>
Of course, any novel about Vincent van Gogh must have major doses of sunflowers, whimsy, and uncontainable joy… balanced out, of course, with serious angst, torment, and depression. Bundrick’s story handles that wildly varied juxtaposition with an effortlessness that captivates you from the first page. She tells the story of a young sex worker named Rachel as she falls for — and subsequently has an intense, mad love affair with — van Gogh himself. It’s heartbreaking and romantic, and, yes, there is an ear involved.
Let yourself get lost in the lives of the figures depicted in Renoir’s beloved impressionist painting with this magically intimate novel. The painting is a celebration of friends, lovers, wine, art, and leisure — where businessmen and shopgirls, writers, and society women put aside class differences to indulge in the idyllic atmosphere of late 1800s Paris. Vreeland’s fictionalized account of these hedonists takes the reader on a buoyant journey through their entangled and interwoven lives, imagining their hidden loves, dark secrets, and wildest dreams.
<em><a data-affiliate-link="" href="https://www.amazon.com/Modern-Art-Evelyn-Toynton/dp/1883285186/?tag=bm01f-20" rel="noskim" target="_blank">Modern Art</a> </em>
Being married to a depressed, philandering, drunk genius is hard — and no one knows this better than Lee Krasner, abstract expressionist and wife to Jackson Pollock. Toynton’s sharp, feminist tome maps the real lives of Krasner and Pollock onto her fictional characters Belle Prokoff and Clay Madden, using Prokoff to explore the later years of Krasner’s life as she’s still grappling with the shock waves of Pollock’s death and her own artistic ambitions. It’s a quiet meditation on what it means to give your life to someone else, especially once that someone else is gone.
When Mamah Borthwick Cheney and her husband Edwin commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build their dream house, she had no idea she’d fall in love with the emotional, dramatic architect — but fall she did. In Horan’s fictionalized account of this little-talked-about (but very real!) love affair, Cheney becomes a creative force in her own right, with Wright’s love and guidance emboldening the mother and wife to seek so much more for herself. And as the reader, you’re happy just to be along for her journey.
This “country girl making it in the big city” story would be captivating enough on its own — all romance and lucky breaks, as Eva Gouel moves from the French countryside to Paris, only to become a costumer at a dance hall and fall in love with an angsty artist. But, of course, Gouel’s painter is the legendary Pablo Picasso, and the dance hall where they meet is the famed Moulin Rouge. Though there’s little known about their time together, Gouel is believed to have inspired Picasso’s Cubist period, and their imagined passionate love affair plays out beautifully in Girard’s book.
Just as Claude Monet’s impressionist paintings are total crowd-pleasers, with their sunny skies and watercolor flowers, so too is Stephanie Cowell’s bohemian romp that follows Monet and the love of his life, Camille Doncieux, as they navigate the art world, war, friendships, secrets, love, and art. It’s fun, for sure, but doesn’t come without its own nip of tormented-artist edge.