Jul 30 2012 2:30pm

Picturing Books

A few months ago, Allen Williams emailed me a painting for an upcoming anthology, Queen Victoria’s Spellbook. (You can see the image in the post below.) Allen has been one of my favorite artists for a while now, and if you take a look, I think it’s easy to see why. His illustration is a great image of a reader, which got me thinking... what other paintings feature books?

Click images to enlarge.

Above, twin Italian illustrators Anna and Elena Balbusso showing a book that makes you look behind you.

Winslow Homer. The upper body language is just perfect, so engrossed and relaxed.


Summer reading by Gerard Dubois.


Scott Brundage for Michael Bishop’s tribute to editor David H. Hartwell for David’s 70th birthday.


Another by Gerard DuBois.


Dave Palumbo, as part of a series of tarot cards he is completing with his family Tony Palumbo, Julie Bell, and Boris Vallejo.


I first discovered Francois Schuiten while working on this post. As you’ll see below, I am now a big fan.


I love the simplified shapes in this one from Paul Serusier.


From the surrealist Jacek Yerka.


Jean-Baptiste Monge, a modern day folktale-ist.


Shaun Tan creates the awesomest book group ever.


There’s a J. C. Leyendecker for every occasion and they are all great. I have the pleasure of visiting this one each time I go to the Society of Illustrators.


Two from Jessie Willcox Smith, known for her depictions of childhood.



Gustav Adolph Hennig, sweet and formal.


Bold brush strokes make this one from Maurice Prendergast.


Norman Rockwell, America’s premiere visual storyteller, depicted readers many times.


Carl Spitzweg and a happy bookworm.


Becky Payne showing an artist with one of their most important materials, their library.


Tatsuro Kiuchi with all the options in the world.


Erin McGuire’s Book Thief.


A millon stories in the naked city, from Francois Schuiten.


Tran Nguyen, reminding us that books are doorways.


An ode to Buck Rogers by still-life artist Teresa N. Fischer. So much to love but, man, I get a kick out of the Christmas bulb moon.


I love the simplified graphic sensibility and use of patterns in this one from Maurice Denis.


Jillian Tamaki and William Butler Yeats.


Chris Silas Neal with a multi-tasking summer reader.


Books as building blocks. Yan Nascimbene had so many great book paintings, it was tough to pick just one.


One of many great New York scenes by Eric Drooker.


Red Nose Studio Poe in 3D.


Mike Stilkey, stacking books and painting cats.


One of Coles Phillips famous fade-away girls.


Stanford Kay, one of his many book paintings. As an Art Director, I can appreciate spine out.


I saw this Vincent Desiderio painting a bunch of years ago. Even standing in front of it, it seemed bigger and more fantastic than is imaginable.


John White Alexander. I love that this apears to be reading in a whirlwind.


George A. Reid’s evocatively titled “Forbidden Fruit.”


Jean-Léon Gérôme. The grandeur and storytelling in this is fantastic.


Arcimboldo famous for making faces.


Rembrandt’s mother read books.


Henri Fantin Latour. Two sisters —one engaged, one daydreaming.


M. C. Esher


A still from the fantastic Secret of Kells, a movie about books.


Early science fiction pulp artist Hannes Bok. Because robots and sentient plants gotta read, too.


Chris Buzelli’s book monster!


Nicholas Roerich


Sam Wolfe Connelley, a spellbook for Magic the Gathering.


Don Maitz shows us just how engrossed in a spellbook a wizard can be.


And another spellbook, this time Donato Giancola’s rendition of the famous “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” scene from Disney’s Fantasia.


Yuko Shimizu, one of a number great book drawings for The Unwritten.


Books and cats, nearly inseparable. By Will Barnett.


The great Maurice Sendak did many wonderful posters for the “New York is Book Country” festival.


Shaun Tan’s foreign exchange student, Eric.


Charles Santoso


Beware of the stacks. The Late Library by Graham Annable.


Chillin’ Neil Gaiman by Yuko Shimizu.


Frank Quitely’s Destiny from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.


Yet another from Francois Schuiten.


James Gurney, of Dinotopia fame.


Edward Burne-Jones with Merlin and Nimue.


Lawrence Alma-Tadema


Everyone knows John Singer Sargent’s seminal oil paintings, here we see him just as free and adept in watercolor.


Edwin White


A classic merlin from N. C. Wyeth.


Albert Joseph Moore. Value and pattern make this one.


Vincent Van Gogh, a thoughtful moment.


Sara S. Stilwell, The Fairy Godmother.


Todd Lockwood’s cover for Spellwright


Eleanor Brickdale with Shakespeare’s Prospero.


Book’thulhu! by Dan Dos Santos.


Another from John Alexander White that depicts stitting still and reading as being an active and animated act.


Agnolo Bronzino. Formal and’s fun to visit this one at the Met.


Allen Williams for the upcoming anothology, Queen Victoria’s Spellbook.


Edouard John Mentha, a library and a natural history museum!


Jose Moreno Carbonero


Classic Flemish still-life painting from Jan Davidsz. de Heem.


Gustove Dore’s Don Quixote, a man lost in books.


A Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Ferdinand Barth.


Norman Rockwell showing a boy’s imagination in play...


...and later in life.


James Tissot shows us a glimpse. 


And finally, a maid taking a break by William McGregor Paxton.

Irene Gallo is the Art Director of Tor Books. And had a lot of help from Greg Manchess on this post. 

Tracy Barrett
2. Tracy Barrett
Wonderful, wonderful compilation! There are lots of Annunciations featuring the Virgin Mary reading in a garden; this one is my favorite: There's a lovely modern take on the scene by John Collier. You can see it here (for one example),
Thanks for putting this together--about to share widely!
Tracy Barrett
3. bcarman
Gotta have me some Vermeer.
Irene Gallo
4. Irene
Can't belive I missed a John Collier! And Vermeer. Great to see them now.
Tracy Barrett
6. Gregthings
A few that I can think of:

Arthur Rackham:

Franklin, Booth:

JC Cole Charles Dana Gibson:

Charles Vess:

Dave McKean:

Maurice Sendak:


Tracy Barrett
8. gregthings
Actually I mistook the above for JC COLE when in fact its CHarles Dana Gibson. With apologies.
Tracy Barrett
9. seth e.
I love the Secret of Kells. It's one of the most beautifully designed animated movies I've seen in the past ten years.

Speaking of animation, there's the Quay Bros.' Cabinet of Jan Svankmejer, which is a tribute to both stop-motion animation and books. The whole thing's available online.
Tracy Barrett
10. JamesPadraicR
Here's a favorite:
Fragonard's A Young Girl Reading
Tracy Barrett
11. Elizabeth Dulemba
Serious eye candy - thanks so much for gethering and sharing!! :)
Irene Gallo
12. Irene
Thanks for the additions, guys!

Greg Ruth,
Would you belive that I had yours in there but it was overpowering everything around it? It's true! I was sorry to take it I’m doubley so.
Alan Brown
13. AlanBrown
This is an excerpt from my internal monologue as I looked these over, "Wow, wow, wow, beautiful, wow, oh my, gorgeous, wow, wow..." (you get the idea)
And then I proceeded to right click on the ones I liked the best to save them for wallpaper duties, and the monologue went like this, "That one, that one, oh, and that one, oh look at that, can't miss that one..." Until more than half had ended up on my hard drive.
Thanks, and Good Night, Irene!
Tracy Barrett
14. Stroika
The School of Athens in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican shows Plato with the Timaeus and Aristotle with the Ethics in the middle.
Tracy Barrett
16. Mike Manomivibul
May I be so bold as to add one of mine? Done for James Gurney's old Art by commitee asignments.
Clémentine Girbal
17. C.G
I always love those collections, thank you so much for putting them together! I found this one particularly soothing at a moment were I needed it :)
Tracy Barrett
18. tnv
I'm surprised you missed van der Weyden's beautiful Renaissance painting "The Magdalen Reading."
Tracy Barrett
19. Sara Woolley
Thank you so much for putting this collection together. I enjoyed it so much I and HAD to share it on my blog! thanks!
Lis Riba
20. lisriba
Are you familiar with the work of Fanny Brennan?

I have her lithographs Mess of Books and Cascade (below, shown actual size)

She has quite a few other book-related paintings; you can browse thru some of her portfolio @
Tracy Barrett
23. AlyxL
These are gorgeous!

One of my favourite paintings of a reader is this.

I've never been sure if it is meant to be the same girl twice (perhaps before and after a rather boring book) or twins.
S Cooper
24. SPC
A lot of George Deem's "School of . . ." paintings include readers (some of whom have already been collected here. George Deem page .
Tracy Barrett
25. hrj
what about Fragonard's beauty?

Tracy Barrett
26. muse03
I've had a print of "Priceless Treasure" by Sue Dawe in my library for years... a dragon's true hoard is not gold, but books...
Tracy Barrett
27. Deirdre T
I have always loved this card from the Tarot of the Cat People by Karen Kuykendall. Entertainingly enough Andre Norton wrote two books based in the universe created by Kuykendall; Mark of the Cat and Year of the Rat.
Tracy Barrett
28. CarolA
Did I miss on of my favorite Renoirs?
Tracy Barrett
29. Scarlett
wow, thank you so much for posting this wonderfully beautiful compilation!
Tracy Barrett
30. Rhondda
Thanks so much for the post and to those who added extra images. The images are fantastic
Tracy Barrett
31. Jocelyn Ozolins
Found via Joyce Valenza tweet. Simply gorgeous and inspiring. Sharing with Goodreads group.
Many thanks.
Tracy Barrett
32. JohnnyMac
What a gorgeous, evocative collection! If you published a book on this theme I would buy it.

One note on a detail: In Graham Annable's "The Late Library" above notice the author and title on the book the creature is peering past. It is "Whistle and I'll Come " by M.R. James, a master of the classic ghost story. Interestingly, another of James' stories, "The Tractate Middoth", does involve something spooky lurking in the stacks of a library.
Tracy Barrett
33. grannyannie
What an awesome collection ... me thinking about displays in our school library ... can we copy the images?
Anastasia Burina
34. Radda
Thank you for this amazing compilation! So very inspiring...
I wanted to add this touching piece by Anastasia Gorbunova that won the "Best public service adverisment about reading" contest in Russia.

And now I want to go and read something.
Tracy Barrett
35. Barbara Pettibone
Beautiful! I tried to keep a list of my favorites but gave up as the images just got better and better!
Tracy Barrett
36. Vasanti
WOW, an amazing collection. Imagine the responses that these images could elicit.
Thank You for sharing them.
Tracy Barrett
37. Nancy Scott
AMAZING! If these were compiled in one book, it would be a bestseller!
Jeff Schweer
38. JeffS.
I've always loved these collections that you put together. This one is no exception. The additions from the comment stream are fabulous.

At one time, here in Everett WA, there was a used bookstore called "Don Quixote's Books." Upstairs, toward the back where the Sci Fiction and Fantasy shelves were located, was a print of Spitzwig's Happy Bookworm. I always gave it a look and a smile as I passed on my own search for books. A gentleman and his daughter ran the place along with a couple of rather fat long haired cats. It's gone now as the owner retired and the daughter went on to other things. First thing I thought of when I saw the painting in this list was that great bookstore and how much time I spent there. A good memory, thanks for that.
Jeff S.
I am only an egg
Tracy Barrett
40. cgunni

Berthe Morisot, Little Girl Reading, 1888. I think this was her daughter Julie.

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