7 Books You Should Read if You’re Into Art History

If you are working on earning an art history degree online, here is a list of our book recommendations for your pleasure reading time.

When you’re working on earning an art history degree online, you can count on having plenty of academic readings to decode. However, having some “me time” to indulge yourself in different kinds of reading for fun might have a positive influence on improving your overall academic performance.

In general, when we are obligated to read for assignments, we tend to be distracted by external factors, such as your phone and dog. However, when we are reading books that are out of our own choice, with a cup of our favorite drink, by the pool in the summer or by the fireplace in the winter, we seem to ignore everything around us but only enjoy reading. The phone never rings, and the dog always sleeps tight, right next to us.

So, here is a list of our art history related book recommendations for your pleasure reading time. Have fun!

Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture. Image courtesy of Oxford University Press

Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture by Bram Dijkstra

Published in 1986, Idols of Perversity by Bram Dijkstra discusses the negative, prejudicial depictions of womanhood in several works of art during the early 1900s, including paintings and literature.

Dijkstra examines art history through the lens of well-known male artists in Europe and the United States during this period, such as Renoir and Klimt. This book offers a frustrating yet fascinating look at how male artists depicted women based mainly on their reproductive value at the time.

The Story of Art
Image courtesy of Amazon

The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich

The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich, which was originally published in 1950, offers a down-to-earth introduction to works of art throughout history. From prehistoric cave drawings and ancient Greek and Roman sculptures to early 19th century American and European paintings and more modern works, this book contains tons of illustrations of famous artwork through the ages.

Along with these images are engaging, easy-to-understand explanations of how art has developed and changed over time. This book makes an excellent read for art students taking a beginner’s course or even a more advanced course, such as AHS 600 Art History Methodologies and Theories offered in Academy of Art.

The Trouble with Women Artists by Laure Adler and Camille Vieville

The Trouble with Women Artists by Laure Adler and Camille Vieville, published in 2019, paints a portrait of 67 women artists from the Renaissance period to modern times.

What sets this book apart from other art history books about female artists?

This one takes a close look at artwork done by women from the perspective of a female audience, offering insightful explanations of these artistic achievements. A few of the artists who are celebrated in this book include Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Mary Cassatt.

Girl with a Pearl Earring
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, which was published in 2000, gained mainstream fame when the film version came out in 2003.

The book that the award-winning movie was based on tells a fictional tale of the story behind this famous painting done by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. The painting itself is among the more widely recognized paintings of all time, and the book imagines what inspired Vermeer to paint it.

Students taking courses such as AHS 623 Art of the Dutch Golden Age in the Academy’s Schoo of Fine Art can draw on this book for inspiration and a different perspective into Vermeer’s artwork.

Art Nouveau: The Essential Reference by Carol Belanger Grafton

Published in 2015, Art Nouveau: The Essential Reference by Carol Belanger Grafton provides an intriguing look at the Art Nouveau movement. Filled with hundreds of illustrations, this book includes graphic art and other works of art by famous Art Nouveau artists, such as M. P. Verneuil and Alphonse Mucha.

Fine art students and those studying illustration and graphic art can study artwork from this period in-depth while also learning more about these artists.

The Lady in Gold

The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor

Much like Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor weaves an exciting story about a famous work of art.

In this case, the book, which was published in 2012, explores the fictional tale behind Gustav Klimt’s world-renowned painting. Although it’s fiction, reading this book offers some insight into life in Austria during that period and imagines what might have inspired Klimt to create this painting.

The Moon and Sixpence

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

First published in 1919, The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham is a fictional story based on famous painter Paul Gauguin’s life. The story focuses more on the darker side of creating art, including how it can have a negative impact on artists. The book explores what kinds of sacrifices an artist might make to achieve greatness in the art world.


If you’re interested in studying art history, request information to learn more about how you can get started with Academy of Art University’s School of Art History, which is ranked as one of the Best Online Masters in Art History in the United States. Online and onsite options are both available. Once you’ve evaluated your options and decided to join, apply now to join Academy of Art University.