Five art novels

  • 15 August 2013

From a Renaissance art thriller to a Henry James novel inspired by an Art Fund campaign, we pick our favourite fictions for art lovers.

1. Tracy Chevalier, The Lady and the Unicorn

American author Tracy Chevalier rose to fame with her Vermeer-inspired novel Girl With a Pearl Earring, a fictional account of the artist's relationship with his model and servant Griet. In the Lady and the Unicorn Chevalier shifts focus from the Dutch Golden Age to medieval France, weaving together fact and fiction to imagine the story behind one of the greatest works of the middle ages

2. Don DeLillo, Point Omega

Reclusive New York novelist Don Delillo has long been fascinated with art – his Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel Mao II was inspired by a series of Andy Warhol prints. Point Omega begins and ends at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, features a performance artist as a lead character, and has large sections told from the perspective of an anonymous figure watching Douglas Gordon's video installation 24 Hour Psycho.

3. Dan Brown, Inferno

In the best-selling writer's latest page turner, Professor Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital in Florence with no memory of getting there. Before long he finds himself chasing a trail of clues across the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance, from Botticelli's Map of Hell to Vasari's Battle of Marciano, and encounters the real-world art organisation ARCA: the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art.

4. Henry James, The Outcry

A lighter read than the Portrait of a Lady or the Turn of the Screw, Henry James's final novel was inspired by the Art Fund's campaign to save Holbein's portrait of Christina of Denmark. The fundraising campaign succeeded at the eleventh hour thanks to a £40,000 donation from a mystery benefactor, inspiring James to write this story about the buying up of Britain's treasures by American billionaire Breckenridge Bender.

5. Jonathan Smith, Summer in February

While delivering a speech criticising modern art, painter Alfred Munnings finds himself taken back to his youth in the Cornish art community of the early 20th century, a period which changed his life forever. Inspired by a true story, Summer in February explores the tragic romance between Munnings, his friend Gilbert Evans, and the artist Florence Carter-Wood.