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Welcome Back The Ringling with an Artistic Read

Every artwork tells a story, as does every novel. Here are four novels that combine art and a story to celebrate the reopening of The Ringling museum.

The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes

Swathed in a red dressing gown and surrounded by suggestive, crimson drapes, John Singer Sargent’s depiction of the pioneering gynecologist Samuel Pozzi, Dr Pozzi at Home was his first work to be exhibited at the Royal Academy, in 1882. The painting recently inspired the latest novel by francophile author Julian Barnes, The Man in the Red Coat.

How to be Both by Ali Smith

Scottish author Ali Smith first saw the allegorical Month of March (c.1469) by the 15th-century Italian painter Francesco del Cossa while leafing through an art magazine over breakfast. This chance encounter inspired a trip to Ferrara, Italy to see the fresco and eventually led to Smith’s novel, How to be Both.

The Masterpiece by Emile Zola

“Mon cher Émile, I’ve just received The Masterpiece, which you were kind enough to send me.” So begins one of the final letters in 1866 from French artist Paul Cézanne to his childhood friend and successful author Emile Zola. The Masterpiece is a classic tale of the artist-as-madman, a characterization that has weighed heavily and glamorously on the history of art since the 19th century.

Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thomson

The true story of 19th-century French artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore has long demanded its own novel. Originally born under the names Lucie Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, the pair met at art school and become lovers. To confuse things, Malerhbe’s widowed mother then married Schwob’s divorced father, and the artists move to Paris. There, they defy gender expectations through their theatre, poetry, photography and sculpture in the Parisian surrealist scene. Finally, they settle in Jersey where they secretly campaign against Nazi occupation. It is a fascinating story of love and resistance, which Rupert Thomson tells with deference to the striking, curious artwork of the partners and collaborators.

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