Art and Literature – inspiration goes both ways

On a recent visit to the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), I felt connected to three artists in particular as a result of having recently read books inspired by these artists and their work.


The first artist was Henri Matisse (1869-1954), the famous French painter, unparalleled for his vivid color and line work.



I just finished reading Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living my Dream by James Morgan. Morgan takes the reader along as he follows in Matisse’s footsteps. There are no big discoveries or surprises, but Morgan makes some wonderful observations. The Baltimore Museum of Art inherited an outstanding collection of works by Henri Matisse, thanks to the Cone sisters of Baltimore (Claribel and Etta, below). These dour-faced sisters amassed over 3,000 works in their lifetimes, including hundreds of paintings and sketches by Matisse.



Van Gogh’s expressive painting of hobnailed boots (below) immediately caught my eye. It brought to mind Vincent van Gogh’s lifelong struggle with poverty, articulated in his prolific correspondence with his brother, Theo, compiled in The Letters of Vincent van Gogh. 

Van Gogh shoes

I doubt there ever lived an artist more dedicated and driven to create than Vincent van Gogh. His letters describe a sensitive, observant, frustrated, and anguished man. His obsession with his art ultimately contributed to his mental breakdown and tragic demise. 


Also on view was a bronze cast of Degas’ iconic, tutu-clad ballerina, Little Dancer (below).


This sculpture – one of the best-known works in modern art and first exhibited in 1881 – is the subject of a recently published, introspective book entitled Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Camille Laurens. Ms. Laurens’ narrative is a hybrid memoir/art historical dive into the sculpture’s controversial history. The author’s research into the model’s identity provides an in-depth view of 19th century life for these young dancers, preyed upon by wealthy Opera goers and exploited by artists such as Degas.

I can personally attest to the inspiration that a work of art can spark in a writer. I have recently completed my manuscript ‘L’Origine‘ (seven years in the making) based on Gustave Courbet’s erotic 19th century painting L’Origine du monde. (In case you missed it, read about it in my article published by the Huffington Post.)

Before signing off, here are two works at the BMA from two of my favorite women artists.

Alice Neel (1900-1984) Nancy and the Twins
Anne Truitt (1921-2004) ‘First’

Read the inspiration for the above work in Truitt’s own words:

What did I know, I asked myself. What did I love? What was it that meant the very most to me inside my very own self? The fields and trees and fences and boards and lattices of my childhood…rushed across my inner eyes as if borne by a great, strong wind…’