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Fiction about art reveals a parallel extra-academy, extra-museum art history. This essay examines how three novels, all published in 1999, fictionalize early modern Netherlandish painters and paintings. Tracey Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring is ‘art-historical fiction’ that uses real paintings to craft a fictional Vermeer; Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue is ‘provenance fiction’ that brings to life the history of ownership of a fictional painting by Vermeer; and Michael Frayn's Headlong, a tale of a modern-day amateur art historian's quixotic quest for a long lost picture by Pieter Bruegel, is ‘art-history fiction’. These novels rely on strategies of Dutch and Flemish genre painting to craft stories of ordinary lives that are made extraordinary by art. Held up as mirrors to our scholarly practices, they confront us with the popular ramifications of recent approaches to works of art and their makers.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Delaware

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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