The best books about painters

10 authors have picked their favorite books about painters and why they recommend each book.

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Stravinsky's Lunch

By Drusilla Modjeska,

Book cover of Stravinsky's Lunch

Drusilla Modjeska’s Stravinsky’s Lunch is an absolutely original study of art and life. Its starting and finishing points are the contrasting lives of two major Australian artists, Stella Bowen and Grace Cossington, born twelve months apart in the 1890s. Don’t be put off if you’ve never heard of them (though their work is wonderful). This brilliant book involves its author – and even the reader – in an untricksy but radical look at the self who makes.

Stravinsky's Lunch

By Drusilla Modjeska,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stravinsky's Lunch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Fiona Sampson is a leading British poet and writer, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, awarded an MBE for services to literature. Published in thirty-seven languages, she’s the recipient of numerous national and international awards. Her twenty-eight books include the critically acclaimed In Search of Mary Shelley, and Two-Way Mirror: The life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and she’s Emeritus Professor of Poetry, University of Roehampton.


I wrote...

Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

By Fiona Sampson,

Book cover of Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

What is my book about?

Born into an age when women could neither own property once married nor vote, Barrett Browning seized control of her private income, overcame long-term illness, eloped to revolutionary Italy with Browning, and achieved lasting literary fame. A feminist icon, political activist, and international literary superstar, she inspired writers as diverse as Emily Dickinson, George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, and Virginia Woolf. The first biography of Barrett Browning in more than three decades, with unique access to the poet's abundant correspondence, Two-Way Mirror holds up a mirror to the woman, her art, and the art of biography itself.

Diego Rivera

By Duncan Tonatiuh,

Book cover of Diego Rivera: His World and Ours

The best thing a book about an artist can do is to encourage children to make art, too. That’s what award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh does in this innovative biography of Diego Rivera, one of the most famous painters of the 20th century. Tonatiuh focuses on how Rivera dedicated himself to telling the history and stories of people and places he knew and loved in Mexico by capturing their images. Taking this book to the next level, Tonatiuh then asks his young readers what stories this painter would bring to life today and encourages them to create new images that the world needs to see.

Diego Rivera

By Duncan Tonatiuh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This charming book introduces one of the most popular artists of the twentieth century, Diego Rivera, to young readers. It tells the story of Diego as a young, mischievous boy who demonstrated a clear passion for art and then went on to become one of the most famous painters in the world. Duncan Tonatiuh also prompts readers to think about what Diego would paint today. Just as Diego's murals depicted great historical events in Mexican culture or celebrated native peoples, if Diego were painting today, what would his artwork depict? How would his paintings reflect today's culture?Diego Rivera: His World…

Who am I?

I am an award-winning children’s book author who writes stories about ordinary people, like you and me, that discovered their unique gifts and used those gifts, plus perseverance, to make the world a better place. All my books come with free teacher guides, resources, and projects on my website where kids can share photos of the great things they do.


I wrote...

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

By Nancy Churnin, Felicia Marshall (illustrator),

Book cover of Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

What is my book about?

Beautiful Shades of Brown tells the true story of Laura Wheeler Waring, who didn’t see any paintings of people who looked like her. She didn’t see artists that look like her when she was growing up in the late 19th century, either. Determined to change this, she studied art in America and Paris. Back in Philadelphia, the Harmon Foundation, admiring her brilliance, commissioned her to paint portraits of accomplished African Americans. She did! Her portraits traveled around the country and now hang in Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery, where children of all races can admire the beautiful shades of brown she captured. At the end of the book, you can see reproductions of Waring’s actual paintings and learn about the people she portrayed.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos

By Monica Brown, John Parra (illustrator),

Book cover of Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos

I like biographies that approach a subject from a different angle and this book does that by focusing on the animals that influenced Frida Kahlo. By witnessing Frida’s relationships with her pets—a parrot, eagle, fawn, cat, dogs, turkeys, monkeys—kids will get to know Frida and learn how she became one of the world’s most beloved artists despite several challenges. The back matter explains that the artist often included her pets in her work. So when readers of this biography encounter one of Kahlo’s animalito paintings (perhaps in a museum or in another book), they will delight in recognizing Frida’s furry and feathered friends. A wonderful way to introduce kids to an artist’s work!

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos

By Monica Brown, John Parra (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I write picture-book biographies and my latest book focuses on the first giraffologist, Dr. Anne Innis Dagg. While researching this book, I learned about so many people who have dedicated their lives to studying and protecting animals. Almost always, their love of wildlife began in childhood. So why not inspire young animal lovers today with true stories about people who share their passion for wildlife?


I wrote...

Anne and Her Tower of Giraffes

By Karlin Gray,

Book cover of Anne and Her Tower of Giraffes

What is my book about?

At four years old, Anne saw her first giraffe and never stopped thinking about it. Her desire to study the world's tallest animal followed her from preschool to graduate school, from Canada to South Africa. And often, people laughed at her quest. But by following her love of giraffes, Dr. Anne Innis Dagg became a pioneer—the first scientist to study animal behavior in Africa.

Illustrated by Aparna Varma, Anne and Her Tower of Giraffes is a picture-book biography that celebrates the adventures of Dr. Dagg, the beauty of giraffes, and the power of persistence. 

Many Points of Me

By Caroline Gertler,

Book cover of Many Points of Me

Another middle-grade novel that includes a journey in a search for meaning after grief, Caroline Gertler’s book is also about the beauty of self-discovery. In a search for her father (and his artwork) the main character Georgia finally finds herself...as well as healing, hope, and family. In the end, Georgia learns that “home” is where she belongs, with the people who love her no matter what. A story not only about grief but about unconditional love, Gertler’s novel is a lovely one for those wondering about a lost parent.

Many Points of Me

By Caroline Gertler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Many Points of Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I have passion for the topic of grief among middle-school-aged children, as I struggled with my grief when I was ten and my beloved grandmother died. My dad came from a very large family, and so other relatives passed during my childhood, with me always dealing with feelings of confusion after the loss. I think that children need to know that they are not alone when they are facing a loss, whether it be of a human or a pet.


I wrote...

One Amazing Elephant

By Linda Oatman High,

Book cover of One Amazing Elephant

What is my book about?

A poignant middle-grade animal story from talented author Linda Oatman High that will appeal to fans of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. In this heartwarming novel, a girl and an elephant face the same devastating loss—and slowly realize that they share the same powerful love.

Twelve-year-old Lily Pruitt loves her grandparents, but she doesn’t love the circus—and the circus is their life. She’s perfectly happy to stay with her father, away from her neglectful mother and her grandfather’s beloved elephant, Queenie Grace. Then Grandpa Bill dies, and both Lily and Queenie Grace are devastated. When Lily travels to Florida for the funeral, she keeps her distance from the elephant. But the two are mourning the same man—and form a bond born of loss. And when Queenie Grace faces danger, Lily must come up with a plan to help save her friend.

Life with Picasso

By Françoise Gilot, Carlton Lake,

Book cover of Life with Picasso

She was 21, he was 61. Thousands of books have been written about Picasso, this one is unique. Gilot is an artist (whose work he admired) who became the mother of two of his children and the only woman to have left him. All Picasso’s work is about his life and this book illuminates the passions of his later years.

Women were Picasso’s most enduring subject and his relationships with them vitally inform all the decades of his work. His greatness as an artist is matched only by his failure as a partner and his poor treatment of the real women in his life is well documented. He met his match in Françoise Gilot, the only woman to have left him voluntarily. As an artist in her own right, she is in a unique position to inform us about the man and his work.

Life with Picasso

By Françoise Gilot, Carlton Lake,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life with Picasso as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Francoise Gilot was a young painter in Pasis when she first met Picasso - he was sixty-two and she was twenty-one. During the following ten years they were lovers, worked closely together and she became mother to two of his children, Claude and Paloma.

Life with Picasso, her account of those extraordinary years, is filled with intimate and astonishing revelations about the man, his work, his thoughts and his friends - Matisse, Braque, Gertrude Stein and Giacometti among others. Francois Gilot paints a compelling portrait of her turbulent life with the temperamental genius that was Picasso.

She is a superb…


Who am I?

I have spent an exciting half-century in the New York art world as a dealer and an author and while my passion is to encourage people to enjoy art for art’s sake (rather than money or prestige) my many close friendships with artists demonstrate how much their life informs their art. The authors of these five books bring the art as well as the artists to life.


I wrote...

Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art

By Michael Findlay,

Book cover of Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art

What is my book about?

When it comes to viewing art, living in the information age is not necessarily a benefit. So argues Michael Findlay in this book that encourages a new way of looking at art. Much of this thinking involves stripping away what we have been taught and instead of trusting our own instincts, opinions, and reactions. Including reproductions of works by Mark Rothko, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Jacob Lawrence, and other modern and contemporary masters, this book takes readers on a journey through modern art. “The most important thing for us to grasp,” writes Findlay, “is that the essence of a great work of art is inert until it is seen. Our engagement with the work of art liberates its essence.”

The Burnt Orange Heresy

By Charles Willeford,

Book cover of The Burnt Orange Heresy

It is a splendid piece of noir that centers on James Figueras, an art critic looking for a big break and has no qualms about how it’s to come about, even if it means breaking the law. What’s subtly woven into the narrative are questions of racial identity. Figueras is a Puerto Rican man whose blonde hair and blue-eyed appearance grant him the ease of moving through the wealthy, overwhelmingly white art world. Here, Willeford suggests that much of Figueras’s social currency comes from his ability to blend into his surroundings, and despite his swindling nature his pedigree as an art critic isn’t overtly questioned. 

The Burnt Orange Heresy

By Charles Willeford,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The classic neo-noir novel acclaimed as Willeford s best, soon to be a major film

Fast-talking, backstabbing, womanizing, and fiercely ambitious art critic James Figueras will do anything blackmail, burglary, and beyond to make a name for himself. When an unscrupulous collector offers Figueras a career-making chance to interview Jacques Debierue, the greatest living and most reclusive artist, the critic must decide how far he will go to become the art-world celebrity he hungers to be. Will Figueras stop at the opportunity to skim some cream for himself or push beyond morality s limits to a bigger payoff?

Crossing the…

Who am I?

I'm a novelist and screenwriter best known for my fourth novel, Under Color of Law, which features Black detective Trevor "Finn" Finnegan of the LAPD. I'm a lover of crime fiction, preferably noir, that works to entertain and enlighten readers by exploring the topical issues of today. I hold an MFA in Writing from Otis College and I’ve taught college-level English and creative writing courses for over ten years.


I wrote...

Under Color of Law

By Aaron Philip Clark,

Book cover of Under Color of Law

What is my book about?

Inspired by my time as a recruit in the LAPD academy, the novel is set in 2014, shortly after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Amid protests for racial justice, Black Detective Trevor "Finn" Finnegan of the Robbery-Homicide Division has been given the toughest case of his career—the homicide investigation of Brandon Soledad, a Black police academy recruit found dead in the Angeles National Forest. As pressure mounts to solve the crime and avoid a PR nightmare, Finn scours the underbelly of a volatile city where power, violence, and race intersect. But it's Finn's experience as a beat cop that may hold the key to solving the recruit's murder. The price? The end of Finn's career...or his life.

Alison Watt

By Julie Lawson, Tom Normand, Andrew O'Hagan

Book cover of Alison Watt: A Portrait Without Likeness: A Conversation with the Art of Allan Ramsay

To my mind, Alison Watt’s unerring eye and technical skills rank among the best, and conceptually her paintings are equally compelling. Dealing with the complexities of perception, they constantly question the nature of art: what is this magic that paint alone can perform? Her work is an ongoing conversation with the art of the past, and the exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery was her response to the 18th Century portraitist Allan Ramsay. The paintings remind me of exhibits in a trial, or evidence of a forensic examination, focusing on specific details, insisting that we look more closely, enjoying forms and colours, and inviting us to speculate on their relevance to the original subjects. The catalogue, beautifully produced, is a work of art in its own right.

Alison Watt

By Julie Lawson, Tom Normand, Andrew O'Hagan

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A unique insight into the ways in which one of today's leading artists is inspired by great works of the past.

In 16 emphatically modern new paintings, renowned artist, Alison Watt, responds to the remarkable delicacy of the female portraits by eighteenth-century Scottish portraitist, Allan Ramsay.

Watt's new works are particularly inspired by Ramsay's much-loved portrait of his wife, along with less familiar portraits and drawings. Watt shines a light on enigmatic details in Ramsay's work and has created paintings which hover between the genres of still life and portraiture.

In conversation with curator Julie Lawson, Watt discusses how painters…

Who am I?

I have always enjoyed looking at art, and love it when I can help others to enjoy it too. Curators and academics are incredibly knowledgeable, but sometimes theory gets in the way, and academic precision can lead to turgid texts. I’d rather write in a way that is as simple as possible – without being condescending – and so help people to understand art more fully. That’s why I love it when exhibitions bring art together in new ways, encouraging us to look afresh at familiar images, or startling us with something we haven’t seen before.


I wrote...

The Secret Language of the Renaissance: Decoding the Hidden Symbolism of Italian Art

By Richard Stemp,

Book cover of The Secret Language of the Renaissance: Decoding the Hidden Symbolism of Italian Art

What is my book about?

I wanted to write an introduction to the Italian Renaissance which would not only cover as much material as possible, but also give the readers the tools necessary to learn how to look at art that is not included for themselves. Different elements are introduced in simple, bite-sized chunks which gradually lead you towards far more complex ideas and images. As well as being great for the complete beginner, there is also enough unexpected material to surprise and delight enthusiasts who already have some knowledge of the subject.

Threads

By Julia Blackburn,

Book cover of Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske

This is a rare and poignant insight into a man’s needlecraft and it was a delight to read. Julia Blackburn sets out on a mission to rediscover the neglected embroideries and forgotten story of the Norfolk fisherman, John Craske, (1881-1943). Her research leads her to many dead ends and unexpected encounters and, along the way, she experiences and shares her own story of loss. I love this book because it takes me into the world of the sea captured in the fishing folk Blackburn meets and introduces me to Craske’s mesmerising embroideries made under tragic circumstances.

Threads

By Julia Blackburn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the East Anglian Book of the Year 2015

John Craske, a Norfok fisherman, was born in 1881 and in 1917, when he had just turned thirty-six, he fell seriously ill. For the rest of his life he kept moving in and out of what was described as 'a stuporous state'. In 1923 he started making paintings of the sea and boats and the coastline seen from the sea, and later, when he was too ill to stand and paint, he turned to embroidery, which he could do lying in bed. His embroideries were also the sea, including his…


Who am I?

I have sewn since I was a child, taught by my mother to keep me out of mischief. From having the best-dressed dolls in the neighbourhood I graduated to making my own, sometimes outlandish, forms of fashion and then became a banner maker and community textile artist. Sewing is in my DNA and I love the tactile, rhythmic soothe of it. But I have long been curious about how, in the many books are published about needlework, very few ever mention why people sew. This is what fascinates me, the stories of sewing, because it is through its purpose that we discover the spirit that lies within it. 


I wrote...

Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle

By Clare Hunter,

Book cover of Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle

What is my book about?

You might have never sewn, might have hated sewing at school, or might think it is something only women do but Threads of Life will change your idea of why sewing matters. Tracing the stories of people who sew – through centuries and across cultures – this is a book that explores the political, social, and emotional significance of needlework. From the shell-shocked soldiers of the First World War to women smuggling out patchworks to tell of atrocities in Chile during Pinochet’s Reign of Terror; from the intricate pictorial quilts made by 19th-century tailors to the therapeutic needlework undertaken by those suffering from mental or physical frailty you will find moving and heroic tales of how people have used needle and thread to find a voice.

The Guardian of Mercy

By Terence Ward,

Book cover of The Guardian of Mercy: How an Extraordinary Painting by Caravaggio Changed an Ordinary Life Today

In this wondrous book on Caravaggio, the world of Naples unfolds from the inside through an electrifying reading experience. Written with grace, almost every sentence imparts an epiphany. The author challenges us to undertake soul-work, even if one is a secular reader. Reading becomes an act of empathy and passion. In the words of Wallace Stevens, potential readers will become ‘necessary angels’.

The Guardian of Mercy

By Terence Ward,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Profound New Look at the Italian Master and His Lasting Legacy

Now celebrated as one of the great painters of the Renaissance, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio fled Rome in 1606 to escape retribution for killing a man in a brawl. Three years later he was in Naples, where he painted The Seven Acts of Mercy. A year later he died at the age of thirty-eight under mysterious circumstances. Exploring Caravaggio's singular masterwork, in The Guardian of Mercy Terence Ward offers an incredible narrative journey into the heart of his artistry and his metamorphosis from fugitive to visionary.

Ward's guide…

Who am I?

Early in life, I felt the presence of a “guardian angel” who would take my hand and accompany my mind to imagine distant cultures. I grew up in Florence, and in our history, there were so many tales of people coming from afar, and of Florentines traveling across deserts and oceans. And as time passed, I would be drawn to beautifully written true stories which opened windows onto different epochs and dramas of life in both near and far-flung places of the world.


I wrote...

The Lady of Sing Sing: An American Countess, an Italian Immigrant, and Their Epic Battle for Justice in New York's Gilded Age

By Idanna Pucci,

Book cover of The Lady of Sing Sing: An American Countess, an Italian Immigrant, and Their Epic Battle for Justice in New York's Gilded Age

What is my book about?

In 1890’s Manhattan, 22-year-old Maria Barbella is sentenced to be the first woman to die in the newly invented electric chair. Cora Slocomb di Brazza--an American heiress and pioneer activist married to an Italian count and living in Italy--mobilizes Manhattan’s press and public opinion to save her. In a nation already rumbling about women’s rights, Cora launches the first campaign against the death penalty. Yet, the inventor Thomas Edison has aligned his forces against the Italian immigrant girl. Locked in the “war of the currents” with his rival Westinghouse, the future of Edison’s DC current in America depends on Maria’s execution.

Woven through the tale are rich themes of class, shame, cruelty, loneliness, empathy, and love. The New York chronicler, Pete Hamill, wrote:
“This extraordinary book of historical non-fiction has the shape of drama as old as the Greeks with vivid relevance to the way we live now.”

Dancing Through Fields of Color

By Elizabeth Brown, Aimée Sicuro (illustrator),

Book cover of Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler

When kids think of artists, male names usually come to mind. That’s why I was delighted to discover Dancing Through Fields of Color, a lyrical story about Helen Frankenthaler, an abstract expressionist of the 1950s who deserves to be better known. Author Elizabeth Brown shows how Frankenthaler’s difficulty fitting in and creating the art she was told to create ultimately led to her discovering her true gifts and a style that would come to be known as “soak-stain painting.” The rich and joyful colors of Aimee Sicuro’s illustrations of Helen dancing through vibrant flowers, will spark young readers’ imaginations, making them thirst for more.

Dancing Through Fields of Color

By Elizabeth Brown, Aimée Sicuro (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dancing Through Fields of Color as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

They said only men could paint powerful pictures, but Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) splashed her way through the modern art world. Channeling deep emotion, Helen poured paint onto her canvas and danced with the colors to make art unlike anything anyone had ever seen. She used unique tools like mops and squeegees to push the paint around, to dazzling effects. Frankenthaler became an originator of the influential "Color Field" style of abstract expressionist painting with her "soak stain" technique, and her artwork continues to electrify new generations of artists today. Dancing Through Fields of Color discusses Frankenthaler's early life, how she…

Who am I?

I am an award-winning children’s book author who writes stories about ordinary people, like you and me, that discovered their unique gifts and used those gifts, plus perseverance, to make the world a better place. All my books come with free teacher guides, resources, and projects on my website where kids can share photos of the great things they do.


I wrote...

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

By Nancy Churnin, Felicia Marshall (illustrator),

Book cover of Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

What is my book about?

Beautiful Shades of Brown tells the true story of Laura Wheeler Waring, who didn’t see any paintings of people who looked like her. She didn’t see artists that look like her when she was growing up in the late 19th century, either. Determined to change this, she studied art in America and Paris. Back in Philadelphia, the Harmon Foundation, admiring her brilliance, commissioned her to paint portraits of accomplished African Americans. She did! Her portraits traveled around the country and now hang in Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery, where children of all races can admire the beautiful shades of brown she captured. At the end of the book, you can see reproductions of Waring’s actual paintings and learn about the people she portrayed.

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