To celebrate World Book Day, we’ve compiled a list of seven books inspired by famous paintings.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
- The Painting- This 1654 piece from the Dutch Golden Age painter Carel Fabritius is renowned for the simplicity of its composition and use of illusionary techniques. It is thought that the piece was in Fabritius’s workshop at the time of the Delft explosion, an explosion at a gunpowder store that destroyed much of the Dutch city of Delft and took the life of Fabritius.
- The Novel- Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the story of Theodore Decker, a 13-year-old boy who loses his mother in a terrorist explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the confusion steals the Goldfinch painting. Tartt, a renowned southern writer, usually takes about a decade to write her novels. This careful care and attention can be seen in her rich prose style and use of language in The Goldfinch.
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
- The Painting- Another painting from the Dutch Golden Age, painted by Johannes Vermeer around 1665. The painting depicts a European-looking girl, wearing what appears to be a turban and a large pearl earring. The girl’s eyes are particularly striking as they appear to be gazing directly at the viewer. In 2006 it was selected by the Dutch public as the most beautiful painting in the Netherlands.
- The Novel- Girl with a Pearl Earring is a 1999 historical novel written by Tracy Chevalier set in the aforementioned city of Delft. Chevalier writes a fictional account of how the painting was created with a particular emphasis on the girl as she finds herself in the employment of Johannes Vermeer.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
- The Painting- Despite the Mona Lisa appearing on the front cover, it’s The Last Supper that plays the major role in Dan Brown’s work. In The Last Supper, da Vinci is said to have painted the moment Jesus revealed to his apostles that one of them would betray him. Judas is seen clutching a small bag, perhaps a reference to the 30 pieces of silver he received for betraying Jesus. In the painting, Judas is also tipping over salt a possible allusion to the Eastern expression to “betray the salt” meaning to betray one’s master. He is also the only one with his elbow on the table and is leaning lowest in the scene.
- The Novel- The Da Vinci Code is a Dan Brown thriller that became a massive worldwide bestseller selling over 80 million copies. A set of mysterious clues hidden in the paintings of da Vinci lead Professor Robert Langdon to uncover a secret that will rock the Catholic church and lead to the location of the Holy Grail.
Headlong by Michael Frayn
- The Painting- Months of the years are a famous set of landscape paintings by the Dutch Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the Elder depicting pastoral and landscape scenes while incorporating depictions of everyday peasants at work. While five paintings remain, it is generally accepted that there is a missing sixth, the search for which still continues to this day.
- The Novel- Headlong follows the story of Martin, an amateur art historian who reluctantly attends a dinner one night to find what he believes to be the lost Months of the years painting hanging in the house of the warring couple next door. What follows is a series of farcical interactions and bizarre transactions as Martin attempts to get the painting into his hands. The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999.
The picture of Dorian
- The Painting- A full length portrait of Dorian Gray, a young man renowned for his beauty, painted by the artist Basil Hallward.While the painting may be fictional, no list of books concerning literature and art would be complete without mentioning Wilde’s masterpiece, a tale in which art and reality become inseparable. Have a look at Ivan Albright's version of the painting created for the Oscar winning film of the same name.
- The Novel- Oscar Wilde’s only published novel recounts the story of the handsome Dorian Gray who becomes infatuated with his own beauty when his portrait is painted by his painter friend, Basil Hallward. When Gray declares, “How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young.... If it were only the other way,” it becomes so. Over the decades despite his debauchery and transgressions, Gray remains eternally youthful, at least on the outside, while all the while the painting corrupts and displays his transgressions. A fact that eventually brings Gray to the brink of insanity.
Girl Reading by Katie Ward
- The Painting- Ranging from the classical to the contemporary, the six paintings referenced in the book include, The Annunciation and Two Saints, Janssens Elinga’s Reading Woman and Young Girl Reading, all of which depict women and girls either reading a book, or with a book in their hand.
- The Novel- Each chapter of the book follows the subject of each piece at the particular moment in their life when they found themselves posing for these paintings. From a young orphan girl sitting for the painting of The Annunciation in 14th century Florence, to a teenager discussing women’s suffrage in early 20th Century Britain, the book spans over seven centuries and details how attitudes and norms towards women have changed over time.
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
- The Painting- Luncheon of the boating party is an 1881 painting by the impressionist painter Auguste Renoir depicting a group of Renoir’s friends relaxing on a balcony at the Maison Fournaise restaurant along the Seine river, while chatting and socialising before a table full of fruit and wine. The piece has become renowned for its richness of form, fluidity of brush stroke, and use of light.
- The Novel- The novel is told from the point of view of Renoir and some of his models and catalogues the events leading up to the staging of the painting. The work has been praised for its historical accuracy and its portrayal of the artist’s life while delicately weaving a narrative that chronicles the loves, losses, and triumphs of the characters lives.