The best historical fiction books about artists and their muses

Lynn Bushell Author Of Painted Ladies
By Lynn Bushell

The Books I Picked & Why

The Muse

By Jessie Burton

Book cover of The Muse

Why this book?

I liked this book, because for once the 'genius' is a woman and the muse a man, albeit a reluctant one. The man in this instance has been credited with a masterpiece painted by a woman who feels she can best maintain her artistic freedom by not becoming famous. Well, what man turns down the chance of recognition? The book also asks some interesting questions such as what critics of the past looked for when deciding if a painting was a masterpiece – whether the artist was male or female being high on the list!

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The Girl with a Pearl Earring

By Tracy Chevalier

Book cover of The Girl with a Pearl Earring

Why this book?

What I loved about this book was that the atmosphere pervading it was so like the feeling I got from looking at Vermeer's paintings, including the title picture. It has a  quality of stillness and silence that makes you want to hold your breath. 

Griet's treatment at the hands of Vermeer's family isn't that much better than that meted out to most girls in her position, but you feel – more than usually – that the beauty surrounding her, compensated for it.  She might not have agreed of course.

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The Weeping Woman: A Novel

By Zoe Valdes, David Frye

Book cover of The Weeping Woman: A Novel

Why this book?

We all know that Picasso wasn't very nice to his muses – nothing unusual there. He was arrogant and with a massive sense of entitlement. Dora Maar had good reason to weep. She was an artist herself – a successful painter & photographer, gaining commissions historically awarded to men and creating a radical new image of the modern woman  that's until she met Picasso. When she started to cause trouble he had her put away. It's extraordinary how many muses ended up in asylums. Unlike Rodin's muse she did get out, however. In Valdes' novel the story doesn't exactly end happily but in reality she did go on working, as a photographer, up till her death at eighty-nine. Good for you, Dora.

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The Artist’s Muse

By Kerry Postle

Book cover of The Artist’s Muse

Why this book?

How much of yourself are you willing to sacrifice, the book asks its heroine. It's time the victims had their say and it's a question Kerry Postle tackles head-on. Wally Neuzel was a model to both Gustave Klimt and Egon Schiele, giants of the Neue Sachlichkeit in Vienna in the early 1900s, artists who in today's terms, got away with murder. The novel highlights the delicate position a girl was in if she chose to model for an artist albeit a famous one. It might secure her a place in history, but models were regarded as little better than prostitutes, rejected (once they'd had their way with them, of course) by the very bourgeoisie who bought the paintings and often by the artists themselves. 

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Tulip Fever

By Deborah Moggach

Book cover of Tulip Fever

Why this book?

The muse occupies a slightly different role in Deborah Moggach's novel in that she spends a large part of the book supposedly already dead. Muses often exerted a posthumous influence on their artists, usually reflecting a legacy of guilt on the artist's part for his mistreatment or neglect. (Rossetti is a case in point. He had all his poems buried with his muse Lizzie Siddal, only to request permission to exhume them years later.) The painter, in this case, Jan van Loos, remains true, spending his life painting portraits of his muse Sophia and their love. Perhaps to be a muse, even a dead one, wasn't all bad.         

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