Alicia in Wokeland, Sierra Duckett

5 Paintings Inspired by Famous Literature

Karina Bocchicchio September 27 2023


Many contemporary artists are inspired to bring works of fiction to life with their artistic talent. Here are the top 5 paintings based on literature that art enthusiasts will love.

1- The Dreams in the Witch House, Kim Prisu (2016)

“The Dreams in the Witch House” as shown at Kim Prisu Gallery

Art enthusiasts have come to expect dark colours and large creatures when viewing depictions of Lovecraftian horrors. But Kim Prisu's painting of H.P. Lovecraft's lesser-known Dreams in the Witch House is full of vibrant colour and dynamic shapes. This suits the dream-like story whose main villains are the souls of Salem witch Keziah and her pet rat, Brown Jenkin. With iconography depicting the notorious Cthulhu and death itself, the contemporary artist perfectly portrays the fear and anxiety surrounding witchcraft and cannibalism seen in Lovecraft's work. You can see more of Prisu’s art on his website.

2- Dubling, Elida Tessler (2010)

IN TRANSITION exhibition of “Dubling”

Presented at the IN TRANSITION exhibition with the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO), Dubling is an art display based on James Joyce's novel Ulysses. A pivotal work for the modernist movements, Joyce's novel explores themes of Irish nationalism, human thought, and the search for paternity (among many others), through structural comparisons with the classical work The Odyssey. The contemporary artist Elida Tessler used 4311 glass bottles, postcards, and corks to create a piece representing the primary setting of the novel, the River Liffey. Written on the postcards and corks are gerunds found in Ulysses. While the art piece is no longer on display, art enthusiasts can still enjoy this piece through pictures on CIFO's website.

3- After "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue, Jeff Wall (1999-2000)

“After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison the Prologue” by Jeff Wall | displayed at the MOMA

As the photo’s title suggests, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man inspired the Canadian artist Jeff Wall. Published in 1953, Invisible Man is a pivotal piece of African-American literature, depicting the life of an unnamed black man. Wall’s photo references the book's prologue, capturing the narrator sitting under 1369 light bulbs as he reflects on his place in American society: “I am invisible, understand,” the narrator explains, “simply because people refuse to see me.” While it's set in Harlem, both the novel and photo serve as vital social commentary on racial tensions in North America. The image, along with others from Wall's collections, is on display at the Museum of Modern Art's virtual gallery, a place of honour for all Canadian artists.

4- Mad Tea Party, Salvador Dalí (1969)

“Mad Tea Party” by Salvador Dalí

Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is a 19th-century children's classic. The imaginative setting and meandering plot have inspired countless artistic adaptations. Given Salvador Dalí's intensely surrealist style, it's not surprising that he was one of the many inspired by Carroll's text. Of the 12 paintings he created, the one with most of the hallmarks of Dalí’s style is the Mad Tea Party. Featuring the iconic melting clock, a delicate white tea set, and a vibrant red tree in the centre, Dalí expertly merges his artistic style with the absurd logic of Wonderland. In 2015, Princeton University Press published a special 150th-anniversary edition of Alice in Wonderland featuring all 12 of Dalí's Wonderland pieces. A paperback edition is still available for purchase if you’re a fan of both Alice in Wonderland and Dalí.

5- The Domain of Arnheim, Rene Margitte (1962)

“The Domain of Arnheim” by Rene Margitte

This tranquil painting is based on a short story of the same name by Edgar Allen Poe. While it's one of Poe's lesser-known works, The Domain of Arnheim uses nature as a metaphor for perfecting the human mind. Just as the short story acts as a tour guide through the fictional landscape of Arnheim, Rene Magritte's artwork brings to life the scenic mountainscape that "reflects the supreme majesty and dignity of the poetic sentiment". While the limited colour palette creates a calming and majestic landscape, the surrealist elements add a touch of whimsy to the piece; the top of the mountain shows the head of a bird, a nod to the German definition of the word Arnheim, which means "home of the eagle."

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