Books for Lovers of Reading and Art

If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with while staying home and staying safe, consider one of the following titles recommended by the VMFA Library. Featuring past selections of the VMFA Book Club and previous winners of the Art in Literature: Mary Lynn Kotz Award, this list presents a wide range of topics, including a few inspired by exhibitions at VMFA and the museum’s permanent collection.

We hope you’ll find at least a few of the following books—available for purchase online—interesting, inspiring, or simply entertaining distractions during this time.

Rodin’s Lover
By Heather Webb

This novel about 19th-century artists Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin explores their working relationship and explosive love affair. A VMFA Book Club selection during the museum’s past exhibition Rodin: Evolution of a Genius, the novel is set in Belle Époque France and is described by the San Francisco Book Review as “a riveting examination of all-consuming love and unfettered talent.

What the Body Remembers
By Shauna Singh Baldwin

Set in India in the first half of the 20th century, this novel tells the tale of two Sikh women who are both married to the same man. Satya has been a loyal companion to her husband, so it is difficult when he takes the younger Roop as a second wife. As the women navigate their relationship, their husband navigates the partitioning that led to the creation of Pakistan and India. With so much political upheaval, where will the Sikh community fit in?

The Paper Garden
By Molly Peacock

This fascinating biography presents the story of Mary Delany, an artist who did not begin her artistic career until the age of 72. Following the death of her second husband, Mary delved into her love of botany to create a new art form: mixed-media collages of flowers now referred to as the Flora Delanica. Author Molly Peacock draws parallels with her own life even as she transports the reader to upper class life in 18th-century England.

The Learning Tree
By Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks—noted African American photographer, film director, writer, and musician—is best known for his civil rights–era photojournalism. The Learning Tree is his semi-autobiographical novel set in a small rural town in Kansas in the 1920s. This book club selection coincided with the 2016 VMFA exhibition Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher
By Timothy Egan

Edward Curtis, a popular early 20th-century photographer, was best known for his evocative portraits of Native Americans. Financed by J.P. Morgan, Curtis and his staff spent more than 30 years researching, photographing, and writing about Native Americans and their way of life, which was rapidly disappearing. One of his iconic orotones (glass-plate photographs) was acquired by VMFA.

Ninth Street Women
Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

By Mary Gabriel

Ninth Street Women is the impassioned, wild, sometimes-tragic, always-exhilarating chronicle of five women who dared to enter the male-dominated world of 20th-century abstract painting—not as muses but as artists. From their cold-water lofts, where they worked, drank, fought, and loved, these pioneers burst open the door to the art world for themselves and countless others to come. Winner of the 2019 Art in Literature: The Mary Lynn Kotz Award

The Embrace: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
By Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

In the book’s preface, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda writes: “The first time I saw the paintings of world-renowned artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo . . . I knew a book of poems was in the making.” Through poetry of inspired imagery and impressive detail, she explores the beauty of each artist’s work as well as their personal struggles and the couple’s complicated marriage. Winner of the 2014 Art in Literature: The Mary Lynn Kotz Award

The Painter’s Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art
By Hugh Howard

Tracing the development of Colonial American portraiture, Hugh Howard introduces us to the “founding fathers of American painting”—Charles Willson Peale, John Trumbull, Benjamin West, and Gilbert Stuart. These painters’ interactions with their most famous sitter, George Washington, allow the reader to develop a deeper understanding of what made early American painting unique and how these artists viewed their new country.

Sponsored jointly by VMFA and the Library of Virginia, Art in Literature: The Mary Lynn Kotz Award celebrates the connection between art and literature with an annual award for books published on the visual arts the previous year. The award is presented during the Library of Virginia’s annual Virginia Literary Festival each October. Visit the VMFA Library’s page where you can learn more about the award and see the complete list of winners for other reading ideas.

The VMFA Library looks forward to receiving visitors when the museum reopens to the general public. Usually open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 5 pm, the library provides research assistance, information on objects in the museum’s permanent collection, biographical information on artists, and assistance in locating auction records and appraisers. For further information, you may phone 804.340.1495 or email

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