From the Beacon: Art world comes alive in these books

"Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigors of the mind." Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Having an undergraduate degree in art history and a graduate degree in library science, I am always on the lookout for good reads, fiction or nonfiction, that center around art and artists. Whether or not you have read them or have seen the movies, nearly everyone is familiar with "The Da Vinci Code" and "The Girl with the Pearl Earring." Here are some equally good stories that feature artists or a well-known work of art that will be enjoyable reads. Included are two recent biographies that were well-researched and provide great insight into these American artists.

"The Lost Painting," by Jonathan Harr: Part detective story, part historical account, this is a true story of a painting, "The Taking of Christ" by the well-known 17th century Italian painter, Caravaggio. Harr sends the reader on a spellbinding journey that begins when a young graduate student, Francesca Cappelletti, discovers that this painting is missing. Interwoven with this mystery are the details of the artist's life, just as spellbinding as Francesca's search for the missing painting. Caravaggio had a violent temper and constantly was in and out of jail after frequent brawls in local taverns. At the same time, he was creating his powerful paintings. Scholars estimate that between 60 and 80 of Caravaggio's works are in existence, but many others are unaccounted for.

"Cézanne's Quarry," by Barbara Corrado Pope: This is the author's first novel, and she has woven a suspenseful mystery around the well-known 19th century French painter Paul Cézanne and a novice magistrate, Bernard Martin. It is August, the traditional month when the French take their vacations, and all the other magistrates are away. Martin has two suspects in the murder of a young Parisian woman who recently has moved to Aix-en-Provence, and one of them is Cézanne. Her body has been found near a quarry where the painter is known to occasionally paint. Pope provides a mystery with some twists and some insight into the artist and his influential family.

"Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O'Keeffe," by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp: The author spent more than a decade researching and writing this book and has uncovered some of the many myths and legends surrounding O'Keeffe. Included are quotations from interviews and letters that have not previously been published. The first of three sections goes back four decades before her birth and describes the origin of the Wisconsin dairy farm her immigrant grandparents started and on which she and her siblings were born. The second section describes her years in New York and her relationship with, among others, her future husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. The third section covers the years O'Keeffe spent in New Mexico until her death. This is a very thorough and revealing biography of one of America's most well-known artists.

"de Kooning: An American Master," by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan: The authors spent 10 years writing this definitive biography, resulting in a very detailed and fascinating picture of this Dutchman, who first came to America as a 22-year-old stowaway on a freighter that had sailed from Rotterdam. He ends up in the bohemian art world of New York and makes friends with many people, including rival artists Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky. We see de Kooning in action and have a sense of being in the studio with him as he creates his works of art. The artistic process was not easy for him at times, and de Kooning's personal life can only be described as dysfunctional. However, his work as a mature artist parallels the growth of American art and its subsequent maturing into the center of modern Western art.