Ask the book buyer about female artists, real and imagined...
Like many of us, I try to read as widely as I can about all sorts of subjects, but this doesn’t seem to stop patterns emerging in my book choices quite unintentionally. The theme of this book edit – women and art – is a reading list that I didn’t set out to compile; it did so itself quite naturally.
However it happened, this unplanned foray into books about women in the art world has led to some brilliant finds, from fiction exploring the role of a female model and painter in the pre-Raphaelite movement, to fascinating biography and history detailing the lives of women in and around key art movements in the early 20th century.
I have learned so much, without setting out to (the best kind of reading experience) and I hope something in this selection inspires you too.
Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artist 1900-1950
Edited by Sacha Llewellyn
Jarrold price £17
Back in Spring I picked up this small-ish paperback book, its front cover boasting green and purple suffragette colours. It was first published to accompany a touring exhibition of the same name but makes a perfect primer or gift in its own right. With bright reproductions throughout, it chronicles key artworks by key women artists in the 20th century. Each bite-sized chapter is accompanied by a succinct and accessible commentary from a contemporary artist, meaning in total we hear about 100 artists – a bargain!
The Doll Factory
Jarrold price £8.99
This mesmerising debut novel, inspired by the British pre-Raphaelite painting movement, was full of surprises. Like me, I know lots of readers who were drawn initially to its beautiful, evocative story of artistic discovery, then hooked by its shocking twists and turns. Young Iris becomes a model for the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood and is driven to become a painter herself, but the obsessions of one man threaten to destroy both her art and her life. Inadvertently, I learned much about the pre-Raphaelites, while holding my breath through the final heart stopping chapters. Elizabeth MacNeal is a UEA graduate.
The Hiding Game
SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR
The third novel from Norwich-based Naomi Wood deals with betrayal and danger in the Bauhaus art movement in 1920s and 1930s Germany. Narrator Paul Beckermann’s story of love, creativity, obsession and rivalry between artists and lovers is underlined by the looming, suspenseful spectre of Nazi Germany. Wood draws out the involvement of the women at the Bauhaus and once again, I learned much about the art movement and its key players without even meaning to, the cultural context of the novel subtly seeping in.
Voyaging Out: British Women Artists from Suffrage to the Sixties
Described as a ‘hidden history’, each chapter in this sumptuously produced hardback aims to fill in the gaps in traditional art histories by introducing the lives and work of neglected women artists alongside renowned presences such as Barbara Hepworth, Laura Knight and Winifred Nicholson. Packed with detail, it also has an irresistible look and feel and I felt like a child in a sweet shop when I started reading, unable to choose which chapter to try next, jumping ahead, making my own links between the women and their work. A real treat.
Lost Girls: Love, War and Literature 1939 - 1951
Jarrold price £20
In this new group biography, D.J. Taylor turns his attention to four women in the post-Great War era, all of whom ‘cut a swathe through literary and artistic life in the 1940s’. Between them, Janetta Woolley, Lys Dunlap, Barbara Skelton and Sonia Brownell had relationships with Lucian Freud, George Orwell and the King of Egypt and all were linked to Cyril Connolly, editor of literary magazine Horizon. Their story is so striking for the fact they were breaking rules and flouting convention in lots of ways, yet still defined in relation to the men around them. Fascinating, absorbing and full of revelation.
The Love Child
A novel about adoption, family, hope, separation and love, Rachel Hore’s new novel foregrounds the restrictions on and expectations of women from 1917 through to the 1950s. The stories of Irene and her birth mother Alice unfold miles apart, as Alice buries the past as she trains to become a doctor. It is quirky Miss Juniper, a painter with a perceived ‘bohemian’ lifestyle and child born out of wedlock, whose attitudes offer much-needed freedom for Irene after an isolated childhood. Art continues to play a key role in ensuring Irene and Alice’s stories head towards each other, as the story plays out to its satisfying conclusion.
Prices and availability checked Friday 6 September 2019.