6 Novels Depicting the Shenanigans of the Art World

The art world maintains a mysterious allure. Something about temperamental artists, expensive art trades, and the passion induced by a beautiful painting make for an intoxicating read. From a small Dutch town in the 17th century to the Manhattan elite, art provides a perfect backdrop for a novel. Here, six novels about the beauty, deception, and adventure of the art world.

Palettes to Prose

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The art world maintains a mysterious allure. Something about temperamental artists, expensive art trades, and the passion induced by a beautiful painting make for an intoxicating read. From a small Dutch town in the 17th century to the Manhattan elite, art provides a perfect backdrop for a novel. Here, six novels about the beauty, deception, and adventure of the art world.

‘The Gravity of Birds’ by Tracy Guzeman

Tracy Guzeman’s haunting and exquisitely written debut is a story of family, love, art, and the excavation of histories and memories. Sisters Natalie and Alice Kessler spend a summer holiday with their family by the lake where a young painter, Thomas Bayber, is hired to paint the family. Alice becomes enchanted with Bayber while Natalie appears unmoved, however by the end of the summer all three are strongly affected. Years later, Bayber, now a world renowned artist, orders two men to sell a never-before-seen work of himself with Natalie and Alice, but first, they must track down the sisters. The Gravity of Birds is a physiological and gripping read.

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‘The Underpainter’ by Jane Urquhart

The Underpainter proves a poignant masterwork, enticing the reader with vivid, precise language used to tell the story of a successful painter’s journey through love, pain, and the loss of his best friend and the one woman who loved him. The protagonist, Austin Fraser, narrates the novel in his old age, beginning with a summer during WWI when he was a promising art student in Manhattan. Austin becomes enthralled with Sara, a miner’s daughter, but things change when he becomes more obsessed with his artistic image of her than Sara herself.

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‘The Flamethrowers’ by Rachel Kushner

The '70s New York art scene and Italian Underground come alive in Rachel Kushner’s provocative novel. Reno’s mission to turn her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art leads her into the industrial SoHo art community and into an affair with artist Sandro Valera. Reno travels with Sandro to his family home in Italy where she becomes enthralled with members of a radical movement that overtook Italy in the seventies. The Flamethrowers provides a perceptive and unsentimental portrait of class, sex, feminism, and art in our culture.

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“Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Tracy Chevalier

In the 17th-Century, renowned Dutch Painter Johannes Vermeer’s painted and anonymous portrait called Girl With a Pearl Earring. This portrait has ignited fascination for centuries and served as the inspiration for Tracy Chavelier’s novel centered on 16-year-old Griet, a servant for Vermeer’s household. Griet is quiet and thoughtful and slips, almost accidentally, into an intimacy with her master. Vermeer commissions Griet to sit for him as a model, unbeknownst to his emotionally volatile wife Catharina, their children, or his mother-in-law. Ultimately, a painting could lead to Griet’s ruin.

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‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sarah Dunant

We're in 15th century Florence, and 15-year-old Alessandra Cecchi faces an impending arranged marriage to a much older suitor who is actually in love with her brother, while headstrong Alessandra is in love with a young painter who has been hired to decorate the family chapel. Her situation as a women and her family's high standing in society complicate matters even further. The narrative combines history, art, romance, and social commentary for an intellectual and poignant coming-of-age tale.

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'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt

As a 13-year-old New Yorker, Theo Decker clings to a small, captivating painting that serves as a reminder of his late mother to help him survive the unbearable torment of his present circumstances. As an adult, he is pulled into the underworld of art, working at an antique store and securing art from the rich. The Goldfinch a beautiful and suspenseful tale of obsession, identity, and loss. Sit tight for this one until October.

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