I’m a little obsessed with art in a completely uneducated, unsophisticated way. This may have something to do with the fact that I couldn’t draw a decent stick figure to save my life. I love illustrated editions of classic books, but sometimes I think the illustrators don’t do justice to the story. So I started thinking about which famous artists I would pick to illustrate some classic works of literature. Here are a few I came up with:
The Old Man and the Sea – Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Winslow Homer is my favorite landscape painter, in no small part because he was born in Boston and died in Maine—two places very close to my heart. The sea often inspired Homer and this particular work was painted on the coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. It captures the air of danger and struggle that permeates The Old Man and the Sea.
Frankenstein – Théodore Géricault (1791-1824)
Géricault was an early romantic painter in France. His paintings tend to have a dark, gothic feel to them and more than one of his pieces features severed limbs. This particular painting could have come straight out of the pages of Frankenstein. I can just see Victor chopping up cadavers and stitching body parts together, a pile of discarded limbs lying in the corner. Incidentally, Study of Severed Limbs was finished the same year Frankenstein was published.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Despite his life-long battle with mental illness, most of van Gogh’s paintings had a vibrant energy to them. Starry Night and Starry Night Over the Rhone have the same magical, otherworldly texture that I imagine when reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Nineteen Eighty-Four – René Magritte (1898-1967)
All of Magritte’s surreal paintings have a futuristic vibe and this one practically screams, “Big brother is watching you!” It’s a shame Secker and Warburg didn’t rope Magritte into illustrating Orwell’s greatest dystopian novel.
“Annabel Lee” – Maya Kulenovic (b. 1975)
There are a number of artists I would pick to illustrate various works of Poe, but Maya Kulenovic is by far the best fit for “Annabel Lee.” Her portraits have a haunted quality that evokes the same emotional response as Poe’s poem of lost love.
Dante’s Inferno – Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516)
Gustave Doré is inseparably associated with Dante’s Inferno, but I personally find his illustrations a little dull, especially when compared to the imaginative renderings of Hieronymus Bosch. Bosch frequently painted religious themes, including a famous series on hell. Doré lived after the time of Dante, so for all we know it’s possible he was inspired by his book.
Alice in Wonderland – Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Many have illustrated Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass over the years, most notably John Tenniel and Arthur Rackham. While I am fond of Rackham’s visualization of Wonderland, I think it would be amazing to see Picasso’s interpretation of Carroll’s colorful world of eccentric characters and fantastical creatures.
Do you have any favorite artists you’d like to see illustrate a work of classic literature?