The best books on the artist and the art of living

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been an avid reader from an early age and painting has been my life's work since attending art school from the age of sixteen. Having painted the largest mural in a private house in the 20th century, over a period of fourteen years since 1968, it has been a great privilege to live as part of the families in so many diverse and beautiful houses in Britain, Europe, The Middle East, and The Americas. Many of the interesting people that I have met along the way have greatly enriched my being and I am particularly intrigued by the way that chance encounter shapes one's life. Serendipity is all!

I contributed to...

By Faith and Love: A Memoir

By Hugh Hertford, Graham Rust,

Book cover of By Faith and Love: A Memoir

What is my book about?

This compelling memoir by Hugh, 8th Marquess of Hertford, evokes scenes from a fast-vanishing aristocratic life, with the mischievous humour of a man who never took too seriously the world into which he was born. Opening with the moment Hugh inherited the Ragley Estate in Warwickshire in 1940 at the age of nine, the memoir concludes almost thirty years later with the commission of a mural, "The Temptation" by his close friend, the artist Graham Rust. The account conjures up a world of colourful characters ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Princess Margaret, all observed with an acute but affectionate eye.

"Urbane, witty and original, Hugh Hertford's memoirs are as entertaining as the man himself." - James Stourton

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Red Earl: The Extraordinary Life of the 16th Earl of Huntingdon

Graham Rust Why did I love this book?

The best of biography and a passionate and enthralling account by Selina Hastings of the life of her bohemian father Jack, who escaped his ultra-conservative family to pursue a career as a painter.

With his beautiful Italian wife Cristina, the daughter of the legendary Marchesa Casati famed for her outrageously ornate masked balls, he left Europe for the New World.

They firstly settled in Australia then on the Island of Moorea in the South Pacific, eventually reaching California where Hastings met the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo.

After persuading Rivera to take him on as his painting assistant, he and Cristina spent four years in Mexico City before returning to England. He later taught fresco painting at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in the 1950s - just a few years before I became a student at the Southampton Row establishment and in due course also took up mural painting myself.

This is a fascinating and beautifully written story of the private life of an aristocratic family in the last century.

By Selina Hastings,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In The Red Earl Selina Hastings tells the extraordinary story of her father, Jack Hastings, 16th Earl of Huntingdon. In 1925, Hastings infuriated his ultra-conservative parents by turning his back on centuries of tradition to make a scandalous run-away marriage. With his beautiful Italian wife he then left England for the other side of the world, further enraging his family by determining on a career as a painter. The couple settled first in Australia, then on the island of Moorea in the South Pacific. Here, they led an idyllic existence until a bizarre accident forced them to leave the tropics…

Book cover of Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years

Graham Rust Why did I love this book?

The best tale and totally mesmerizing story of the confidence-man Felix Krull, who developed the art of subterfuge and deception to a phenomenal degree.

Escaping from a childhood of poverty he eventually rose to mingle with the highest echelons of European society. Helped by being young and good-looking Krull was irresistible to women, of which he was not slow to take advantage.

This chameleon-like quality enabled him to adapt to countless situations and to pursue his career as a highly gifted swindler impervious to the conduct and morals of normal humankind.

When, eventually, the Marquis de Venosta makes him a proposal he cannot refuse - his world changes.

A bewitching experience.

By Thomas Mann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recounts the enchanted career of the con man extraordinaire Felix Krull--a man unhampered by the moral precepts that govern the conduct of ordinary people.

Book cover of Francis Bacon: Revelations

Graham Rust Why did I love this book?

For me this is undoubtably the best biography of Francis Bacon.

It illuminates in detail the life of my mysterious and exotic neighbour, who lived only a stone's throw away over the wall from my flat in Manson Place, South Kensington, in the early 1960s.

Bacon's early struggles, to eventually becoming the lauded and celebrated genius in later life, encompass in this fascinating account, a plethora of characters from both high and low life, a cavalcade of lovers, an addiction to gambling and drinking spanning Soho to Tangier, with sojourns in Paris and the South of France on the way. He religiously painted in the mornings.

Many of the episodes and vignettes are unforgettable and a valuable insight into the machinations of the 'art world' in the 20th century.

This compelling and exhausting portrait of the artist, born in Dublin to Anglo-Irish gentry in 1909 and living to the age of 82, is not for the faint-hearted (it is a mammoth 850 pages) but enthralling.

By Mark Stevens, Annalyn Swan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Francis Bacon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Times Art Book of the Year 2021 FINALIST FOR THE PLUTARCH AWARD 2022

'Must surely be the definitive life of Francis Bacon ... A biography that no Bacon fan - or indeed foe - can afford to overlook ... Mesmerising' THE TIMES

'A magnificent triumph ... I was captivated by every line' OBSERVER

A decade in the making, based upon hundreds of interviews and extensive new material, Pulitzer Prize winners Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan have written a startlingly original portrait - rich, complex, and subtle - of a commanding modern figure.

Bacon concealed many important aspects of his…

Book cover of A Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing

Graham Rust Why did I love this book?

The best story, most engrossing of all and set between the wars, is about the unlikely friendship that developed between the fifty-one-year-old spinster, Edith Olivier and the young artist Rex Whistler thirty years her junior.

Edith Olivier (a cousin of the actor Laurence Olivier) became devoted to Rex, as muse and most fervent supporter, thus transforming both of their lives.

Her home, the Daye House on the Wilton Estate, became a sanctuary for Whistler and the gaiety and fun of the period is perfectly evoked by the author, with a cast of friends and acquaintances that bring it to life in the most engaging manner.

Rex Whistler, perhaps best known for his mural for Lord Anglesey at Plas Newydd, had a glittering and successful career, cut short by his sudden death at the age of thirty-nine, killed by a mortar bomb on the 18th July 1944.

Edith was devastated and as Lady Diana Cooper recalled in her memoir 'heart-breaking' 'the saddest that the war brought to me'.

An enchanting and poignant narrative.

By Anna Thomasson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Curious Friendship as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

I loved A Curious Friendship. Anna Thomasson, in her first book, has brilliantly captured this strange coterie.' Sir Roy Strong

The winter of 1924: Edith Olivier, alone for the first time at the age of 51, thought her life had come to an end. For Rex Whistler, a 19-year-old art student, life was just beginning. They were to start an intimate and unlikely friendship that would transform their lives. Gradually Edith's world opened up and she became a writer. Her home, the Daye House, in a wooded corner of the Wilton estate, became a sanctuary for Whistler and the other…

Book cover of The Magician

Graham Rust Why did I love this book?

The best-fictionalised biography of the exiled German Nobel Prize winner of 1929, Thomas Mann.

This elegant and intimate portrait of a great writer is a 'tour de force'. Compelling and imaginative it masterfully captures the private and public conflict of Mann and his family during a time of global tumult.

Mann's infatuation with one of the richest and cultured Jewish families in Munich results in his marriage with their daughter Katia. However, this only adds to his inner turmoil created by his secret private life, compounded by the rise of Hitler, and his need to rethink his relationship with Germany.

Colm Toibin manages to weave all the many entanglements along the way to achieve a profound and moving story.

By Colm Toibin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


From one of our greatest living writers comes a sweeping novel of unrequited love and exile, war and family.

The Magician tells the story of Thomas Mann, whose life was filled with great acclaim and contradiction. He would find himself on the wrong side of history in the First World War, cheerleading the German army, but have a clear vision of the future in the second, anticipating the horrors of Nazism.

He would have six children and…

You might also like...

Snow on Magnolias

By Betty Bolte,

Book cover of Snow on Magnolias

Betty Bolte Author Of Notes of Love and War

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Author Editor Traveler Crocheter Reader

Betty's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Magnolia Merryweather, a horse breeder, is eager to celebrate Christmas for the first time after the Civil War ended even as she grows her business. She envisions a calm, prosperous life ahead after the terror of the past four years. Only, all of her plans are thrown into disarray when her secret lover returns and starts asking questions she can’t answer without disaster following.

Bryce Day comes home to Alabama after he’s discharged from the First Alabama Cavalry USA with guilt weighing on his heart. His neighbors won’t cotton to his Unionist bent, and the woman of his heart likely…

Snow on Magnolias

By Betty Bolte,

What is this book about?

One terrible lie, a desperate measure to save her past, just might destroy her future…

Award-winning author of historical fiction presents a new novel of love and lies, secrets and sensuality, and the hands of fate weaving it all together.

The American Civil War is finally over and Christmas beckons. Magnolia Merryweather, backyard horse breeder, is eager to celebrate for the first time since the war began even as she continues to grow her business. She envisions a calm, prosperous life ahead after all the terror of the past four years. She’s preparing to follow in her mother’s matriarchal footsteps,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in gay men, confidence tricks, and gay topics and characters?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about gay men, confidence tricks, and gay topics and characters.

Gay Men Explore 125 books about gay men
Confidence Tricks Explore 58 books about confidence tricks
Gay Topics And Characters Explore 168 books about gay topics and characters