Great Works of Art Inspired by Great Works of Literature


We don’t know about you, but after we finish a dazzling piece of fiction, we want nothing more than to continue it in some way, to bring it to life in the physical realm. If our painting skills were anywhere as good as our reading skills, we would probably do just that, but alas, they are not. However, we can content ourselves with the knowledge that there are lots of wonderful works of visual, aural, and mixed-media art out there that are based on or inspired by books. Of course, many books are illustrated, and the illustrations are meant to reflect the story, but this is not exactly what we mean by “works of art inspired by works of literature” — otherwise this list would be full of artists like Ralph Steadman and Walter Crane, whose iconic illustrations knock our socks off. Instead, we tried to choose freestanding works that depicted or took influence from literature, whether directly or obliquely. Now, we are completely aware that the list of artworks influenced by literature is endless — especially if you consider the Bible literature — so here we’ve chosen a number of our favorite examples, trying to include both contemporary and classic works of art ranging from sketches to book-length collections of paintings to full-scale musical productions from artists both famous and largely unknown. Click through to see our list of great works of art inspired by great works of literature, and let us know your own favorites in the comments.

A scene from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a multimedia stage presentation that incorporates acting, live music, video, dance, and traditional Japanese puppetry, based on Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same name, by Stephen Earnhart. See more here.

Sorrows of Young Werther, Joseph Cornell, 1966

Little Red Riding Hood book cut sculpture by Su Blackwell, 2010.

Part of a larger wall of Where the Wild Things Are graffiti in Kelsey-Woodlawn, Saskatoon, SK, Canada

Tristin Lowe’s 52-foot sculpture Mocha Dick, 2009.

Death of Ophelia, by Sir John Everett Millais (1851-52)

Baby Pictures of Famous Dictators, by Colin McMullan, 2009 — not to mention the rest of A Failed Entertainment, a 2010 art show comprised of 22 films, sculptures, and paintings inspired by the fictional filmography of James O. Incandenza, of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Read more about the show, including an interview with the organizer, here.

Salvador Dalí’s “Mad Tea Party,” 1969. See more here.

Page 457 of Matt Kish’s wonderful project wherein he created an illustration for every page of Moby Dick. If you’d like, you can buy the resultant book!

Truman Capote and Holly Golightly by Eric Canete. [via]

Romeo and Juliet by Ford Madox Brown, 1870

The Council Chamber by Sir Edward Burne Jones. Part of a series of paintings entitled Briar Rose, based on Sleeping Beauty, 1890. See the rest here.

Many, many artists have seen fit to portray the story of Don Quixote in their art. This simple 1955 sketch, by Pablo Picasso, is one of our favorite renderings.

“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, based on Alice in Wonderland. (We had to include at least one song, and this is the shining example.)

Rodin’s sculpture group The Gates of Hell is based on Dante’s Inferno; his most famous work, The Thinker, depicts Dante himself.