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Top 11 Artist Biographies

Delve into the lives of famous artists with these biographies.

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This is a collection of highly readable and informative artist's biographies I've enjoyed. Biographies are great for finding out more about an artist's methods, their sources of inspiration, and their working life. I find reading biographies very motivating too, for the insights they provide into the day-to-day life of the person behind the paintings, and the practicalities and challenges of producing their art.

Turner: a Life by James Hamilton

Book Review -- Turner A Life by James Hamilton
If you want to be a successful artist and be famous before you death, you can learn a lot from the life of the 19th-century British painter JMW Turner. Not only the hard work and determination needed, but also the belief in himself and his work, the way he pursued and nurtured clients, running his own gallery, and multi-tasking as an artist. If doing illustrations for travel guides was good enough for Turner, why should you be snobbish about doing "illustrations" or "graphic design"?

The Judgement of Paris: Manet, Meissonier, and an Artistic Revolution

Ross King's book The Judgement of Paris, on Manet and Meissonier
This biography centers around a crucial period in the lives of two quite different French painters, Meissonier and Manet, when the former is struggling to hold onto his reputation. (Subtitle of the USA edition is "The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism".)

Matisse Biography by Hilary Spurling

Matisse Biography
Image © Marion Boddy-Evans
Hilary Spurling has written not one, but two volumes of biography on Matisse, some 1,000 pages. But even then when I finished the last page I wished there were more. It's written in such an accessible, easy-flowing style that I was completely drawn into Matisse's life and times, his painting and strivings as an artist.

Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life by Richard Meryman

Andrew Wyeth Biography Secret Life by Richard Meryman
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans
Reading this makes you aware of the factors which shaped Wyeth and his work. You'll never be able to look at his apparently tranquil paintings in the same way again. Illustrated throughout with color and black-and-white examples of his realist work and photos.

Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life by Roxana Robinson

This is a biography to be dipped gradully rather than read over a weekend as it has such a level of detail about O'Keefe's life that your brain becomes saturated and you stop enjoying it. Read about O'Keefe's struggle to become a self-sufficient artist, her inspiration and creative highlights, the loves of her life, and the estate disputes after her death.
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Munch: His Life and Work by Reinhold Heller

What events in Munch's life lead him to paint such psychological pictures? Illustrated with his paintings and period photos.
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De Kooning: An American Master

Review: De Kooning Biography
Even if you’re not a fan of Willem de Kooning’s paintings, this biography is enjoyable for the insight into his life and work, his contemporaries, and the art world he lived in. It reveals how success eluded him for decades, what he did to support himself, and how, once he had decided he was a full-time artist rather than merely dreaming about becoming one, he continually strived towards an independent style.

Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell

Joseph Cornell was a self-taught American artist, who created his own art form: shadow boxes. Was he really such a painfully shy hermit? Where did he get his material and inspiration?
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Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim Biography
Peggy Guggenheim was one of the last century's most important art collectors (her collection is now a museum in Venice; her uncle's in New York). This bio reads very easily and is full of anecdotes, some quite bitchy. You'll be transported into the art world and meet all sorts of now-famous artists.

The Girl with the Gallery by Lindsay Pollock

Book review -- The Girl with the Gallery by Lindsay Pollock, the story of Edith Gregor Halpert
This is a biography of Edith Gregor Halpert, who owned and ran the Downtown Gallery in New York (predating Moma, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim museums) and helped establish a market for American art. It's a part of the art world crucial for every painter wanting to sell their work, yet not generally covered in books on the 20th century art.

Hidden in the Shadow of the Master by Ruth Butler

Best artist biographies Hidden in the Shadow of the Master by Ruth Butler
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc
The painters Monet and Cézanne have a significant spot in the timeline of the development of painting, but can you name the women who were the muses, models, and wives? In this book Ruth Butler tells the stories of Camille Doncieux and Hortense Fique, giving them their due.

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