I love romances with characters who are artists. For me, it’s a way of seeing through the eyes of someone who is special in a way that I’ve never experienced, so I can imagine what it might be like to be able to create a painting or sculpture. (It helps that the heroes and heroines of romance novels who happen to be artists never seem to produce terrible art.) Historical artist characters have the added advantage of having a sort of resonance with my college art history texts; I can imagine what their work might be like.
The most memorable artist character in romance is, I believe, Nardi de Saint Vallier in Bliss by Judy Cuevas (AKA Judith Ivory). He’s wealthy and an acclaimed sculptor, but also an addict who spends almost the entire novel high on ether. The heroine, Hannah Van Evan, is instrumental in helping him out of his drugged haze. It’s a complicated, difficult relationship in a story that doesn’t shy away from the potential dark side of being an artist.
Jonas Whitaker in Megan Chance’s The Portrait suffers from manic depression, for which he self-medicates with alcohol and opium. Heroine Imogene Carter goes to him as a student, and later serves as his model. This novel shows that being artistically talented can be a torment as well as a gift when it’s coupled with other issues. Jonas and Imogene face a long and difficult road together.
Emma Holly takes a much lighter approach with rakish Nicolas Craven in her erotic Beyond Seduction. Merry Vance at first refuses to model for him, but when she needs to ruin her reputation, she decides to pose nude for him, which leads to more intimate encounters and their romance.
In comparison to the character suffering shown in Bliss and The Portrait, artists Kenneth Wilding and Rebecca Seaton of River of Fire by Mary Jo Putney are quite well-adjusted! Rebecca’s issues as an artist arise from societal constraints on women. Kenneth doesn’t think of himself as an artist, but only an illustrator of military intelligence (those pesky false art/craft dichotomies!). Rebecca teaches him how to express himself more deeply with his work. They each admire the other’s work, as a reflection of how they love each other.
Caroline Witfeld in An Invitation to Sin by Suzanne Enoch is constrained as an artist by her social class as well as her gender. Hero Zachary Griffin models for a portrait she is painting, a pre-requisite to study with a master painter in Vienna.
Gray Grayson first begins to truly understand artist Sophia Hathaway in Tessa Dare’s Surrender of a Siren through her drawings, as well as to know himself more completely.
Portrait painter Leila Beaumont in Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase uses her art to give herself financial and emotional security in the face of a terrible marriage, a wise precaution when her husband dies under mysterious circumstances and the Comte d’Esmond is sent to investigate.
Shea Waterston in Painted by the Sun by Elizabeth Grayson (aka Karyn Witmer) features a photographer, not a painter. The historical details of how photographic images were created in the nineteenth century American West are as fascinating as her romance with judge Cameron Gallimore.
Evangeline van Artevalde in Liz Carlyle’s My False Heart is my favorite female artist character. Her talent has made her an outsider; she embraces it by creating for herself an unusual, chaotic, loving household, which she supports through selling her paintings. Hero Eliott Armstrong actually meets her by accident, when she mistakes him for a portrait client, and takes refuge in her mistake. The free lifestyle of an artist is in sharp contrast to his own rakish life, and helps to show him what he truly wants and needs.
Painters, sculptors, and photographers clearly make great characters for Romance. I am wondering, however, where all the artistic knitter and lacemaker and quiller heroes and heroines might be….
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War One-set Spice Brief is titled “Under Her Uniform” and is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.