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The Most Beautiful Paintings about Books and Libraries

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The Great Lockdown has many of us confined to home right now, with our favorite beloved bookstores and libraries closed. What’s a bookworm to do? Well, dear reader, we decided that now is the perfect moment to take a journey through some of the most beautiful and evocative works of art about books, libraries and reading. Our ace correspondent Abbie Martin Greenbaum has curated a list of some of the most famous, beautiful, and influential paintings about books, libraries, reading, and writers.

The Most Beautiful Paintings about Books and Libraries

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.

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Which is why among the many micro-losses that many of us are suffering at the moment is the inability to get lost in a bookstore. Or to while away a few hours at the library.

It cannot be a coincidence that one of the first types of retail stores allowed to reopen after the scourge of coronavirus in Italy was the bookstores.

evocative paintings about books, libraries and reading

While we await the glorious day that our libraries and bookstores will reopen – and work to support them by buying online so that they will reopenlet’s take a mental journey, shall we?

For those of you who love books, and who also love art, we have a special treat: twenty 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.

famous paintings about books
The most famous and influential paintings about books, libraries, reading, and writers: Books by Ryuryukyo Shinsai. Courtesy Photo.

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.

famous paintings about books
Landscape and Beauties: Feeling Like Reading the Next Volume by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Courtesy Photo.

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.

famous paintings about books
The most famous and influential paintings about books, libraries, reading, and writers: The Shop of the Bookdealer Pieter Meijer Warnars on the Vijgendam in Amsterdam by Johannes Jelgerhuis, 1820. Courtesy Photo.

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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.

beautidul paintings
The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg, 1850.  Courtesy Photo.

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.

beautiful paintings about readers
The Bibliophile by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier, 1862. Courtesy Photo.

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.

beautiful paintings about readers
The most famous and influential paintings about books, readers, and writers: The Yellow Books by Vincent Van Gogh, 1887. Courtesy Photo.

7. Still Life With Books and Candle by Henri Matisse (1890)

This work from the French neo-impressionist is currently in a private collection.

influential paintings about readers
Still Life with Books and Candle by Henri Matisse, 1890. Courtesy Photo.

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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.

influential paintings about writers
The Fairy Tale by Walter Firle, 1900. Courtesy Photo.

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.

influential paintings about writers
The most famous and influential paintings about books, readers, and writers: The Library of Thorvald Boeck by Harriet Backer, 1902. Courtesy Photo.

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.

famous paintings about writers
Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso, 1905 – 1906. Courtesy Photo.

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.

famous paintings about books
Boy Reading Adventure Story by Norman Rockwell, 1923. Courtesy Photo.

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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.

beautiful paintings about books
The most famous and influential paintings about books, readers, and writers: Book Transforming Into Nude Woman by Salvador Dali, 1940. Courtesy Photo.

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.

beautiful paintings about books
The Library by Jacob Lawrence, 1960. Courtesy Photo.

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.

influential paintings about books
The Reader by William Tolliver. Courtesy Photo.

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.

The Critique of Pure Reasoning II by Alireza Darvish, 2002. Courtesy Photo.

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.

famous paintings about books
The most famous and influential paintings about books, reading, and writers: SOB, SOB by Kerry James Marshall, 2003. Courtesy Photo.

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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.

beautiful paintings about books
Fantastic Work by Andre Martins de Barros. Courtesy Photo.

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.

The Great Wall by Guy Laramee, 2009 – 2012. Courtesy Photo.

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.”

The most beautiful and famous paintings about books, libraries, reading, and writers:Too Much Information by Jordan Buschur, 2012. Courtesy Photo.

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.

The most beautiful and famous paintings about books, libraries, reading, and writers: Present, Past, Future by Pierpaolo Rovero. Courtesy Photo.

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?

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Abbie Martin Greenbaum grew up in New York City and currently lives in Brooklyn, where she drinks a lot of coffee and matches roommates together for a living. At Oberlin College, she studied English and Cinema, which are still two of her favorite things, along with dessert and musical theater. She believes in magic.

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Join our community! For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. 

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