The best novels about artists by non-artists

Elisabeth M. Lee Author Of Young PRB: A Novel of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
By Elisabeth M. Lee

Who am I?

As a history major and artist I noticed a style of illustrations and paintings that popped up in history books, novels, and poetry collections. I found that the paintings and drawings were just scratching the surface. The lives and struggles of the artists known as Pre-Raphaelites were just as intriguing as the art. I have traveled to the many locations that the Pre-Raphaelites frequented to follow in their footsteps. I've even tried to copy their wet white painting style and was awed by the patience they must have had. I appreciate many art styles and enjoy being transported into the lives of the artists by authors as interested in art and history as I am. 


I wrote...

Young PRB: A Novel of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

By Elisabeth M. Lee,

Book cover of Young PRB: A Novel of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

What is my book about?

Can seven young art students at the Royal Academy of Art in London start a revolution? It seems unlikely but with that self-confidence of youth they intend to try. The art of the establishment is boring and repetitive. They can do better. Their first exhibition pieces slip under the radar of the critics and the Academy elites and they take heart. By their second exhibition word is out that there are subversives in the hallowed halls of the Royal Academy. The critics and the Academicians are ready to tear them down. How could a handful of students cause such a fuss that leads to Charles Dickens and John Ruskin taking opposite sides in the press? Can their revolution and their friendship survive?

The books I picked & why

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The Flanders Panel

By Arturo Perez-Reverte, Margaret Jull Costa (translator),

Book cover of The Flanders Panel

Why this book?

An art mystery, a murder mystery. What more could you ask for?

In Madrid, a noted art restorer Julia has received a painting that is itself an intriguing mystery. A fifteenth-century Flemish painting of a Knight and a Duke playing chess. Julia finds hidden under the paint the inscription Who Killed the Knight? That is a secret that was not meant to be revealed. This book is pre-internet so research is leg work. A cast of devious and delightful characters help and hinder Julia's quest to find the answers she seeks and try to avoid becoming a victim of her curiosity. I love the descriptions of art restoration, the ambiance, and the night owl lifestyle of the characters. 

The Flanders Panel

By Arturo Perez-Reverte, Margaret Jull Costa (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Flanders Panel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The clue to a murder in the art world of contemporary Madrid lies hidden in a medieval painting of a game of chess.

In a 15th-century Flemish painting two noblemen are pictured playing chess. Yet two years before he could sit for the portrait, one of them was murdered. In 20th-century Madrid, Julia, a picture restorer preparing the painting for auction, uncovers a hidden inscription in Latin that points to the crime: Quis necavit equitem? Who killed the knight? But as she teams up with a brilliant chess theoretician to retrace the moves, she discovers the deadly game is not…


The Art Forger

By B.A. Shapiro,

Book cover of The Art Forger

Why this book?

Art forgery has always fascinated me. The idea that you can create a 'new' work by an old master and then, maybe, get away with it. Claire is a struggling artist whose one chance at fame had been stolen by a lover. Reduced to painting reproductions of famous paintings for clients to hang in their home she is approached by an art dealer to secretly forge a Degas painting. The money is good enough to silence her scruples and when the painting arrives she immediately recognizes that it is one of the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. Already she is having doubts but after beginning her study of the painting she suspects that it, too, is a forgery. Forged art has never been so compelling.

The Art Forger

By B.A. Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Art Forger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Almost twenty-five years after the infamous art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum - still the largest unsolved art theft in history - one of the stolen Degas paintings is delivered to the Boston studio of a young artist. Claire Roth has entered into a Faustian bargain with a powerful gallery owner by agreeing to forge the Degas in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But as she begins her work, she starts to suspect that this long-missing masterpiece - the very one that had been hanging at the Gardner for one hundred years - may…


As Above, So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel

By Rudy Rucker,

Book cover of As Above, So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel

Why this book?

As Peter Bruegel stands in the Sistine Chapel admiring Michelangelo’s work he realizes he could never compete with one who works in the heavens – above. He will confine himself to the below the common man. We follow Bruegel and his friends on his journeys, his daily life, and the inspiration he finds in the everyday world around him. His peasants are peasants. Their daily toil is not romanticized. Their feasts consist of rural fare.  Even his religious art is not idealized. It is wonderful to imagine that the author has walked in Bruegel's shoes. Rudy Rucker is a professor of math and computer science but his extensive research has brought to life an artist who left very little of his own life to history.  

As Above, So Below: A Novel of Peter Bruegel

By Rudy Rucker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked As Above, So Below as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Peter Bruegel's paintings - a peasant wedding in a barn, hunters in the snow, a rollicking street festival, and many others - have long defined our idea of everyday life in 16th Century Europe. In sixteen chapters Rucker brings Bruegel's painter's progress and his colourful world to vibrant life doing for Bruegel what GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING did for Vermeer. We follow the artist from the winding streets of Antwerp and Brussels to the glowing skies and decaying monuments of Rome.


Beauty in Thorns

By Kate Forsyth,

Book cover of Beauty in Thorns

Why this book?

After the Impressionists and Vincent Van Gogh, the artists that come easily in third place for fictional ink spilled about them are the Pre-Raphaelites. Their personal lives are as colorful as their artwork. Australian Kate Forsyth has tackled the second phase of Pre-Raphaelitism led by Edward Burne-Jones's mythological and Arthurian paintings and William Morris's designs for furniture, wallpaper, and book art. The love lives of the artists, wives, models, and daughters find their way interwoven in the story of the art. Gabriel Rossetti, who was a major figure of the first phase of Pre-Raphaeltisim, is the flint that ignites the second phase. They all want to live in the dreams of the past, and of legends, but real life is never a fairy tale.

Beauty in Thorns

By Kate Forsyth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beauty in Thorns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets.

The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention.

Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but…


The Girl with a Pearl Earring

By Tracy Chevalier,

Book cover of The Girl with a Pearl Earring

Why this book?

A maid, Griet, is sent to work in the household of the artist Vermeer. His large family depends on the sale of his paintings. Griet is allowed into his studio to clean and is intrigued by the paints, canvases, and lay models the artist uses. When her interest is discovered by Vermeer he teaches her the grinding of pigments and describes how he uses a camera obscura. In time she is bold enough to make compositional suggestions to him. Vermeer comes to rely on her a little too much and when given an advance, by a lascivious patron, of a painting of Griet, the artist and servant relationship is tested. A love story? A story about a painting? Or, a love story of a painting? A true masterpiece.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring

By Tracy Chevalier,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Girl with a Pearl Earring as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestselling novel by the author of A Single Thread and At the Edge of the Orchard

Translated into thirty-nine languages and made into an Oscar-nominated film, starring Scarlett Johanson and Colin Firth

Tracy Chevalier transports readers to a bygone time and place in this richly-imagined portrait of the young woman who inspired one of Vermeer's most celebrated paintings.

History and fiction merge seamlessly in this luminous novel about artistic vision and sensual awakening. Girl with a Pearl Earring tells the story of sixteen-year-old Griet, whose life is transformed by her brief encounter with genius . .…


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