Top 20 Recommended Fiction About Art

Fans of Oil and Marble often ask me about my favorite OTHER novels about, artists, the artistic process, or art history. So, here are my top 20 favorite fiction reads that explore my favorite subject: art.

Where else would I begin other than with the book that started my obsession with Michelangelo and may very well ignite yours!

About Vermeer’s masterpiece by the same name — a great book and brilliant movie starring Scarlett Johanson and Colin Firth. This popular novel explores the creation of this painting through the eyes of its subject.

If you love art, I highly recommend reading all things B.A. Shapiro (including The Muralist and The Collector’s Apprentice), but this one happens to be my favorite—about a woman who forges one of the world’s most famous Degas paintings…

This epic is about the building of a great medieval cathedral… if you want to dive into the world of medieval architecture, you can’t beat this classic. If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?

From the author of The Historian, comes this brilliant and brooding novel about obsession and the power of art… This one stuck in my imagination for YEARS after reading it…

A moving novel about the brilliant Renaissance painter Fra Filippo Lippi. In art history class, I always learned about Lippi as the “drunk monk,” but this beautiful novel delves much deeper into his psyche, his art, and the world of 15th century Florence.

This novel along with The Goldfinch were two novels revolving around art that were all the rage a few years ago. If you haven’t read EITHER of these two books, then please do. I highlight this one because it dives deep into the creation of art — in 17th century Amsterdam through the eyes of a female painter — and explores its lasting resonance in our modern times…

If you skipped this classic piece of literature, I highly recommend you return to it to explore this story of a man who sells his soul for eternal youth. As his locked-away portrait grows old, he remains young and handsome. Scandalous in its time, it’s worth a revisit today.

Primarily about the relationship between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas (with a nice little side exploration of Berthe Morisot and Edouard Manet) this novel is a quick, wonderful dance through the art of Impressionism

An addictive book that explores the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright through the eyes of a woman having a torrid affair with the great architect.

This novel dives deep into the passionate affair between Georgia O’Keeffe and world-renowned photographer, Alfred Stieglitz

Weaving art history with a great romance novel, this novel will transport readers to Botticelli’s Florence and into the passionate heart of the creation of art

This story is told through the perspective of the dancing girls painted by Degas. It gives readers a unique, behind-the-scenes look at Impressionist art and 19th century theater

I love reading anything by Sarah Dunant—Blood and Beauty about the Borgias is one of my favorites as far as straight historical fiction goes—but this novel of love and art, set primarily during against the backdrop of the reign of Savonarola and his infamous Bonfire of the Vanities, is also a particular favorite, bringing Renaissance Florence to life through the eyes of a spirited heroine.

This novel long ago ignited an obsession in me to find out more about the female sculptor Camille Claudel, who became Rodin’s apprentice and muse. Read it and you will never look at a Rodin the same ever again…

A sumptuous journey back to the creation of one of Renoir’s most recognizable masterpieces and an exploration of his life and times as the Impressionists took over the art world in Paris.

A fun, fast, exhilarating read from the author of The Gondola Maker that will transport you back to 16th century Venice to explore the love, life, death, and yes, painting.

I’ve been an obsessive Atwood fan for 25 years, so of course Cat’s Eye has to make my list… It’s about a fictional artist (not a real one from history), but this exquisite novel explores how art, personal history, and psychology intersect in the most fascinating way…

This is a gripping novel about the life of Artemisia Gentileschi one of the greatest Baroque painters in all of Italy and a woman who had to overcome astounding obstacles to succeed in her craft

I will end where I began, with another Irving Stone classic — this one about the Vincent Van Gogh… if you want to know why the world is obsessed with Vincent, you must read this masterpiece by Irving Stone.

I had a hard time narrowing the list even down to 20… There are plenty of other great novels about artists that I didn’t have the space to include (I already had to broaden the list from 10 to 20!). But, please share your favorites in the comments because I wouldn’t want to miss out on some great art read.

Happy reading.