My Top 5… novels about paintings

In the course of my research for Connectedness, I have found some wonderful novels and non-fiction about art, artists, paintings, sculpture and creativity. Here are some of my favourites.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt Buy nowpaintingsNot a novel about artists, but about the power of art over one 13-year old boy. Theo Decker is caught in a bombing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art during which his mother is killed, he sees a red-haired girl and becomes obsessed by her, and he steals a painting. The Goldfinch is the story of what happens to Theo and how his triple obsessions dominate his life. Won the Pulitzer in 2014. One of my all-time favourites. Currently in development as a film.

Read my review here.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier  Buy nowpaintingsMore than two million copies sold worldwide, a film starring Colin Firth and a translucent Scarlett Johansson, do not detract from the brilliance of this novel. Tracy Chevalier says she now feels like a totally different writer from the one who wrote this novel. A story of a painter, his household, a maid and 17th century Holland. I was most captivated by the details of Vermeer’s painting technique and the portrayal of the town of Delft.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant Buy nowpaintingsFlorence, the 1490s. A vivid portrayal of life in this Italian city in the Renaissance. It is a guide to art, the smell of the paint seeps off the page. It is the story of 14-year old Alessandra who longs to paint but who is married very young to man much older than she. Fascinating about the art of that period.

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland Buy nowpaintingsAnother novel about Vermeer. The structure of this is unusual in that instead of a continuous narrative, it tells the stories of the people who owned the painting, starting in current times and working back. The last story is about the Vermeer family and the daughter who sat for the painting.

Read my review here.

How to be Both by Ali Smith Buy nowpaintingsA multi-award winner, How to Be Both won the Bailey’s Prize in 2014 and Goldsmiths Prizes in 2015 and was nominated for the 2015 Booker.

Two stories are inter-linked, one about George, a modern young woman grieving for her mother, the second about the painting of a Renaissance fresco by Francesco del Cossa. What’s the link? The mother loved the fresco and so the daughter attempts to identify the painter. Time is elastic. To complicate things for the reader, this book was printed in two versions: one started with George’s version first, the other started with Francesco. My version was the latter. A novel that rewards multiple readings.

Read my review here

Do you agree with my other ‘Top 5’ choices?:-
My Top 5… the Booker winners I re-read, and why
My top 5… author websites
My Top 5… literary adoptees

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
My five favourite novels about #art & artists #books via @SandraDanby


  1. Love your theme here, Sandra. Have read several books by Chevalier, Vreeland, and Dunant, including the three here, and never disappointed. Tartt is on my bookshelf, to be read within the next month or so. I’ll have to look up Ali Smith’s work.

  2. I like the idea of the Susan Vreeland – I’ve never heard of it, though the idea reminds me of The Hare With Amber Eyes, except of course it concentrated on one family and their netsuke. It’s an imaginative way to tell biography, whether it be of a painting, or a house, or a family. I have The Goldfinch, I really should read Girl With A Pearl Earring, and I have 2 or 3 Sarah Dunants, but that isn’t among them. I feel terrible, but I can’t get into Ali Smith at all!

    • sandradan1

      I loved ‘The Hare with the Amber Eyes’ too. I know what you mean about the Ali Smith, all I can say is: hang in there! SD

      • I will, Sandra! I feel especially guilty as she’s a Scottish author, and, without being biased, I do like to support our home grown talent. I tried Hotel World, The Accidental three times, and a couple of others whose names escape me – can you suggest which of her books is the most accessible? Maybe it was just the wrong time for these books, but I’m pretty good at getting through books – I know I make it easy on myself by mostly reviewing crime fiction, but I’ve not had one DNF since I started blogging (nearly two years.)

        • sandradan1

          My biggest DNF was ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’. Re ‘How to be Both’, it does all connect together in the end. 🙂 SD

          • Strangely, that’s a DNF for me too, way back when it came out. But I gave it to a friend who adored it. Anything that’s fantasy, I stay away from – ditto sci-fiction. But I do enjoy a good ghost story, especially in the winter. So do you think How To Be Both is her most accessible? I feel like it’s become an albatross, in book form, for me!

            • sandradan1

              You’ve just got a mental block, best leave it alone and read something else! I’m struggling to get into the new Julian Barnes at the moment, ‘The Noise of Time’, so have reverted to PD James ‘Innocent Blood’! I’ll go back to the Barnes when I have my intelligent head on 🙂 SD

              • I’ve got that particular Barnes to read but haven’t, as you so eloquently put it, had my intelligent head on! I’ve been reading a lot of spy fiction – these people amaze me as I am utterly without guile; I’d be caught within five minutes! I think you assume people have the same moral values as you, and when you first realise not everyone does, it’s a bit of a shock. I quite fancy some historical fiction, if I can squeeze it in. I also have a huge autobiography of Josephine Tey to read and review, and I’m rather looking forward to it. I’ve bought a couple of her novels for context (any excuse!) I didn’t know she was responsible for Brat Farrar – I remember an adaptation of that when I was younger with a very handsome blond chap.