The 22 Most Beautiful Paintings of Books and the Joy of Reading
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This seems like the perfect moment to take a journey through some of the most beautiful and evocative works of art about books, libraries and reading. We’ve rounded up a list of some of the most famous, beautiful, and influential paintings about books, libraries, reading, and writers.
The Most Beautiful Paintings about Books, Libraries, Writers and Reading
For the bibliophiles among us, there’s nothing quite like a good book. There is no pastime better than getting lost in the landscape of an impossible tale, or enjoying the rhythm of incredible writing. And part of that joy is in the acquisition of new reading material. Whether it’s a trip to the public library, or to a beloved local bookstore, or even a good rummage through our own bookcases in search of treasure, part of the fun of a good read is the discovery process.
evocative paintings about books, libraries and reading
Let’s take a mental journey, shall we? For those of you who love books, and who also love art, we have a special treat: an edit of iconic works of art about books, libraries, readers, and writers. Many of them are fantastical in some way, and many of them use their warm color palettes to evoke a little bit of the cozy magic that is unique to the embrace of a great story.
1. Books by Ryūryūkyo Shinsai
Shinsai was a well-known Japanese artist who lived during the 19th century. This particular woodblock print is currently in the possession of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
2. Landscapes and Beauties: Feeling Like Reading the Next Volume by Utagawa Kuniyoshi
In each work of this series, Kuniyoshi depicts a woman doing an activity in the forefront of the frame, with a picture hanging on the wall behind her. These were completed during the Edo period, in the 19th century.
3. The Shop of the Bookdealer Pieter Meijer Warnars on the Vijgendam in Amsterdam by Johannes Jelgerhuis (1820)
Also a publisher, Warnars’ shop was a meeting place for much of Amsterdam’s intellectual society. The painter, Jelgerhuis, was an actor as well as an artist, performing on the stage at the Stadsschouwburg. You can view this work at the Rijksmuseum today.
4. The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg (1850)
Spitzweg’s art is considered a part of the Beidermeier period, which was typical of the atmosphere in Europe during the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Spitzweg completed three versions of this work, one of which is a part of the collection at Museum Georg Schäfer in Schweinfurt.
5. The Bibliophile by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier (1862)
A French Classicist, Meissonier was well known for his romanticized portrayals of historical figures, such as Napoleon. This work was originally purchased from the artist by Baron D’Outhoorne, and is now on display at the National Gallery of Ireland.
6. The Yellow Books by Vincent Van Gogh (1887)
Now a part of the private collection at The Bridgeman Art Library, this painting from the Dutch master is a giclée print, meaning that a fine paper was sprayed with droplets of ink, maximizing the richness and realness with which the image appears.
7. Still Life With Books and Candle by Henri Matisse (1890)
This work from the French neo-impressionist is currently in a private collection.
8. The Fairy Tale by Walter Firle (1900)
One of the German painter’s best-known works, it shows two things the artist was known for: dramatic lighting, and the positioning of his subjects against a window.
9. The Library of Thorvald Boeck by Harriet Backer (1902)
Jurist Thorvard Boeck was a book collector, famous for having the largest private library in all of Oslo at the time, as chronicled here by Harriet Backer. The painting is on display today at Oslo’s National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design.
10. Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso (1905-1906)
This painting is not of a book, of course, but of an author. A significant piece from Picasso’s Rose Period, the portrait is on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
11. Boy Reading Adventure Story by Norman Rockwell (1923)
This painting is currently in the private collection of George Lucas, and appeared in the Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibit “Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg” in 2011.
12. Book Transforming Itself into Nude Woman by Salvador Dalí (1940)
This fantastical work from the surrealist painter was shown in Chicago, New York, Venice and London before making its way to a private collection, where it currently resides. It was during this year that the artist first arrived in the United States.
13. The Library by Jacob Lawrence (1960)
It is speculated that the space portrayed in Lawrence’s painting is the reading room at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in New York City. The painting is currently held by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
14. The Reader by William Tolliver
The Mississippi artist was known for his love of reading, having read more than 4,000 books on a variety of subjects.
15. The Critique of Pure Reason II by Alireza Darvish (2002)
Iranian painter Alireza Darvish was interviewed about his fantastical book-themed paintings in 2011, by the Huffington Post. In this one, a modern-day Man of La Mancha has been re-imagined in New York City, protecting his beloved books.
16. SOB, SOB by Kerry James Marshall (2003)
This painting from contemporary icon Kerry James Marshall is considered a significant example of a work that incorporates black aesthetics. It is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
17. Fantastic Work by Andre Martins de Barros
Barros was born in 1942 in Pau, which is a small town close to the Spanish Border, in France. His work is reminiscent of optical illusions, as well as of art by Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
18. The Great Wall by Guy Laramée (2009-2012)
Book paintings are given a new meaning with Guy Laramée’s incredible creations, which are quite literally painted onto books. This gorgeous piece is part of a series that depicts an imagined alternate future in the 23rd century.
19. Too Much Information by Jordan Buschur (2012)
From a family of collectors, Buschur often paints pieces that portray an amalgamation of significant objects. She describes the use of closed books in her works as a “blank slate open to any interpretation.”
20. Present Past Future by Pierpaolo Rovero
The Italian artist often features magical images of books in his work. This one looks something like a portal to another time period, through the power of reading.
21. Reading by Xu Beihong
Xu Beihong was born in 1895 in Yixing, China. He moved to Japan to study art, and then to Paris. He is considered the first modern Chinese painter, and one of the most important Chinese artists of the twentieth century.
22. Rather Read by Michael Sowa
German artist Michael Sowa is known for his charming and fabulist paintings. In “Rather Read,” a woman reads on the couch – and images that the fantastical characters from her novel are lurking right outside the open window. Relatable!
The Most Beautiful Paintings about Books
That’s it – our picks for some of the most beautiful and moving paintings displaying their love of books. What’s your favorite painting on this topic, dear reader?