Susan Vreeland's 6 favorite books that blend fiction and art history

The best-selling author recommends works by Irving Stone, Debra Dean, and more

Susan Vreeland
(Image credit: (<a href=";theater"> Vreeland</a>))

Lust for Life by Irving Stone (Plume, $18). This tender and compassionate portrayal of Vincent van Gogh has made me love the besieged genius for his originality and for the suffering he endured while bringing his vision to the world. Based on Van Gogh's exhaustive letters to his brother Théo, the novel illuminates the nobility in the man, the artist, and in art itself.

Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell (Broadway, $15). The tragic and authentic love story of the impressionist Claude Monet and his muse, lover, and wife, Camille Doncieux — who gave up a life of privilege to see him through his bohemian struggle. The scenes of Monet at work are absolutely transportive.

I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira (Penguin, $28). Oliveira reveals the tempestuous relationship of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas in this complex tour de force. Degas' ego initially conceals his hopes and self-doubt, feelings that animate every painter.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Depths of Glory by Irving Stone (out of print). Camille Pissarro, another leading impressionist, produced painting after painting of such beauty that his dealer said that they made him feel that the world is good. Despite poverty, criticism, failing eyesight, and the destruction of nearly 1,500 of his paintings by Prussian soldiers, he continued working to perfect his "rough and true" brushstroke style.

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (Harper Perennial, $15). An aging Russian woman reminisces about working at the Hermitage in 1941, when she had to remove priceless paintings for safekeeping. She calls each hidden painting to mind, giving us memories of the glory of art that even war and Alzheimer's cannot erase.

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (Plume, $16). A local Delft girl was the model for the iconic Johannes Vermeer painting referred to by the title. The novel's speculations about Vermeer's emotions, home life, and working methods are luscious, as are its descriptions of the model as she creates paints by pulverizing minerals and mixing the pigments with oil.

Susan Vreeland is the author of several novels that blend fiction and art history, including the best-seller Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Her latest, Lisette's List, follows a young woman in France who's seeking to save a cache of paintings from the Nazis.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.