Books To Inspire Your Next Painting Holiday

It’s that time of the year: The January Workshop Guides have been released and your dreaming of painting in Italy, France, Greece…etc.

Here are some fun novels to get you in the mood for whatever destination you choose!

Confessions of Catherine de Medici

My last post was about painting in the Loire Valley, which made me think of all the kings and queens and warring dukes that have roamed about the region causing chaos for centuries. One of my favorite French queens wasn’t actually French at all. She was born and raised in Florence, Italy, to a family that presided over a spectacular flowering of art in the Renaissance. Catherine de Medici was married off to the French King Henry II and lived most of her life in France. Her beloved château, Chenonceau, is one of the Loire Valley’s most beautiful sites. Unfortunately, Catherine didn’t get to enjoy Chenonceau much while her husband was alive because he liked hanging out there with his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Diane tagged the place with her initials (like on the fireplaces, shown in the photo for this post). But eventually Henry died and Catherine banished Diane and got her castle back. Unfortunately Diane’s initials were not so easily removed. They are still there, so if you visit Chenonceau on your trip to the Loire, look for the double D’s.

The Sixteen Pleasures

If you are headed to Tuscany, you will hopefully spend at least a few days in Florence, birthplace of Renaissance art and home of my favorite museum in the world, the Uffizi. If you look very closely at many of the Old Master’s paintings in this hallowed place, you can see signs of a very recent restoration. That’s because in 1966, priceless paintings were floating in the streets of Florence after the river Arno flooded the entire region. This unfortunate event led to a new age of art restoration in Florence, with volunteers flocking into the city from all over the world. The Sixteen Pleasures tells the story of Margot Harrington, a volunteer from New York who specializes in ancient books. While struggling to save a flooded convent library, Margot stumbles across a famous gilded volume of sixteen erotic drawings that was thought to be lost forever; she risks everything to help the Abbess sell the book on the black market, and of course, falls into a tortuous love affair along the way.

The Yellow House

If you are on your way to the south of France this year, you must read this fascinating account of Van Gogh and Gauguin, who lived and painted side by side in the little town of Arles. It was a brief period, but it yielded an astonishing number of paintings by both men. Sadly, it ended in an argument, followed by the famous incident of Van Gogh cutting off his own ear. The book includes many original texts and letters by and about both men, and provides enough information about the places where they painted together to visit on your own (hopefully with easel and paints in tow).


Passing through Paris? It’s hard to choose a Paris art story (so many of them), but the little scandal that accompanied John Singer Sargent’s most famous painting (The Portrait of Madame X) makes for a great read. The painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1884, much to the shock of Paris society, who saw the model’s dress as quite scandalous. The model, American born Virginie Gautreau, had refused many artists requests to paint her, but she allowed Sargent the opportunity. After the portrait was completed, she moved to Paris with her French born husband, expecting great things from the notoriety that would surely follow the paintings exhibition. Unfortunately, the painting’s chilly reception at the Paris Salon in 1884 did not create the kind of fame she or Sargent were looking for. The incident led to a serious professional setback for Sargent (who had to move to London) and so much ostracization for Gautreau that she retired from public life completely.

The Last Painting of Sara de Voss

A modern day tale that imagines the lost/hidden women of art history — the women who painted right alongside their famous male counterparts with nary a word of recognition. The story moves between New York, Amsterdam and Australia, following Dr. Ellie Shipley, an art history professor with a checkered past as a forger, and the 17th century female artist who dominates Ellie’s professional career and her imagination. Inspiring and hard to put down!