Jan 8 2013 6:15pm

Artistic Liberties: Heroes and Heroines Who are Artists

Bliss by Judy GuevasI 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.

Beyond Seduction by Emma HollyEmma 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.

Surrender of a Siren by Tessa DareGray 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.

My False Heart by Liz CarlyleEvangeline 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.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Kareni
I've read and enjoyed a surprising number of the titles listed above.

Elizabeth Lowell's A Woman Without Lies features a stained glass artist as the heroine

Barbara Kaye's Home at Last, which I mentioned recently in the post about amnesia, has a heroine who is a fiber artist. She's a weaver (not a quiller or lace maker).
Jena Briars
2. CutMyTeethOnKleypas
I'd have to say recently, the "art appreciation" in Julie Anne Long's What I Did For a Duke is my favorite. There's much discussion and plot building about/around Titian's Venus of Urbino. (But the H&H aren't "artists" per se.)
Victoria Janssen
4. VictoriaJanssen
@CutMyTeethOnKleypas - I haven't read that one, either! Thanks!
5. JacquiC
Meg Maguire's The Reluctant Nude has an artist hero. Also, Beth Kery's Exposed to You has a heroine who is an artist. I really loved both books, though some reviewers have had issues with aspects of the stories.
6. Kareni
I knew I read a story recently in which the heroine quilled. After some thought, I've decided it was "Miss Brockhurst's Christmas Campaign" by
Jo Beverley in the Mischief and Mistletoe anthology which was released in September. The quilling was not a big part of the story as I recall.
7. Janga
The Ivory, Putney, Dare, and Carlyle are all on my keeper shelves. So is Julie Anne Long's Beauty and the Spy in which the heroine's erotic sketches of the hero play a role. I also love Jennifer Ashley's Mac MacKenzie (Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage). No artist protagonist yet, but a painting is central to the plot of Miranda Neville's most recent novel, The Importance of Being Wicked--and I feel certain that we'll get the artist as protagonist later in the Wild Quartet series.

Some of my favorite contemporaries feature artist protagonists too.
8. Alissa H.
Can't remember the title, but Elizabeth Lowell wrote one with a photographer heroine and a yacht-builder hero, and both their trades were central to the story. She also wrote a few heroines who do scientific illustration-- Love Song for a Raven, I think, and the one with volcanos in Hawaii.
Pamela Altz
9. pamelia
Meredith Duran's "Duke of Shadows" has an artist heroine.
The latest Sullivan book by Bella Andre has a sculptor heroine.
R.K. Lilley's "Up in Flight" (Up in the Air trilogy) has a painter for a heroine.
Pamela Altz
10. pamelia
And if you're looking for a quilting heroine the Six-Pack Ranch books by Vivian Arend have a heroine in "Rocky Mountain Desire" who owns a quilt shop and makes /designs quilts.
11. Lm7418
I loved Faking It by Jennifer Crusie. It's funny and sweet and emotional. Tilda Goodnight has got to be my favourite artistic heroine, and favourite heroine's name!
Thank you for reminding me I have this book on my shelf!
12. carmenlire
In Nora Robert's Macgregor grooms, Mac is a painter. In Alan's book, the heroine is a sculptor. In Chesapeake Blue, Seth is a painter. In Jennifer Ashley's Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marraige, the hero, Mac, is also an artist.
Post a comment