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I'm an art fan. Can you suggest some novels that explore the world of paintings and other visual art?
A picture may paint a thousand words, but countless words in literature have been written about pictures, paintings, art and artists. Some stories hinge on a work of art, such as the portrait of Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess. Some ponder the often ambiguous nature of the gift of artistic ability, as artists try to reconcile their creativity with the mundane of the everyday, with relationships and the necessity to earn a living. Others use the artistic temperament to stand for the unconventional or rebellious, a perspective from which to reflect on the accepted and conventional.
· Jolene falls deeply in love with a magnetically charismatic older artist, Martin Sloane, in Michael Redhill’s moving novel.
· Set in the heart of the 1950s London Soho art scene is The Hand that First Held Mine, by Maggie O’Farrell, which examines the tension between the drive to create and the demands of motherhood.
· A group of friends are bound together across generations by art and literature in The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst.
· The unexpected discovery of a confronting painting by his dead wife throws Peter’s understanding of the world into doubt, in Kate Duignan’s book The New Ships.
· Patrick Gale offers a portrait of an artist in Notes from an Exhibition, in which the story of her life is also a retrospective of her work, structured around the information cards which accompany works in a gallery.
· Juliet commissions a portrait of herself, in Natasha Solomons’ The Gallery of Vanished Husbands; after a lifetime of being invisible, she is ready to be seen.
· José Carlos Somoza represents an art scene in which realism is pushed to its limits in The Art of Murder, where paintings are literally alive and the model is the canvas.
· In the aftermath of an explosion in an art gallery, a young boy steals a small painting of The Goldfinch in Donna Tartt’s novel, an act which will draw him into a dangerous criminal underworld.
· The bright energy of Pop art in 1960s Britain features in Autumn, one of a seasonal quartet of books by Ali Smith which invites us to reflect on the times we’re living in now.
· When The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in complete form in 1891, it was prefaced by its author Oscar Wilde’s artistic and literary manifesto of art for art’s sake, in reaction to censorship and vilification by British reviewers. It’s a gothic tale in which, at the cost of his soul, a beautiful young man does not age or fade; instead, it’s his full-length portrait which does so, recording the ravages of a dissolute, hedonistic life.
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