The Beauty of Reading

Posted by on November 25, 2009 10:31 pm in Book talk | 21 comments

A Young Girl Reading, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1776

American Girl Reading, George Cochran Lambdin, 1872

Girl Reading, Franz Eybl, 1850

Girl Reading or In the Orangery, by Charles Perugini

Reading by Lamplight, Delphin Enjolras

Young Woman Reading By A Window, Delphin Enjolras

Those are only a handful of some beautiful paintings featuring women reading. The reading is pictured as a quiet, intimate act; hands reach for the neck and the chest, shoulders are denuded. They sit by the window or by the lamp, the light playing beautifully with the textures and lighting the softness of the skin. There is something beautiful about their concentration, but also something very personal, as if we were witnessing something we shouldn’t be.

I love paintings featuring reading and writing – not only because I love both art and books, but mainly for this intimate feeling. Vermeer also painted some beautiful scenes of women writing and reading letters, and those are among my favorite paintings. Hopefully you enjoy this too. 🙂


  1. I love this post! Are there as many paintings of men reading?

    • Yes, there are many, but in different ways. Women were first painted in a pious manner when reading, and then in a romantic one (like Vermeer’s letters paintings). These paintings are more recent (except for Fragonard’s, they were painted in the end of 19th and beginning of 20th century)

      For men, the representation is more intellectual : they will often be pictured in their office or library, with a hand holding their head as if they were thinking hard. There’s not as much intimacy, and it’s more “from the head” than “from the heart”.

  2. What a perfectly lovely post! I especially liked Girl Reading by Franz Eybl. This would a be a lovely museum series that I’d love to see in real life. I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon, so thanks for putting this together for us to enjoy virtually! 😀

    • I love that one too! It’s one of the most intimate of them all, and the work on the skin texture is amazing.

      I would love to see such an exhibition too! That would be an interesting subject. Who knows, it might happen someday! Meanwhile, maybe you would find interesting “Women who read are dangerous” by Stefan Bollman. I have been meaning to look at it since forever, maybe now would be the time. I heard great things about it.

  3. This is a fun post. Although I can’t help but notice that most of these women seem to be working their way out the top half of their dresses while they’re reading….

    The MFA Boston has a calendar out that has paintings of women reading. I think there’s also a book about it.

  4. Beautiful choices.
    So true.
    There’s something so beautiful and like you said intimate about finding a person reading.

    I think the lamplight one is my favorite.

  5. Lovely. Thanks for the visual treat. Would certainly love to see more.

  6. Those are such beautiful paintings. I that imagine they’re painted by husbands and lovers, enraptured by these beautiful women they’re in love with. I like to think so at least 😉

  7. I love the last one! The lightning is dim and adds more drama to me. The woman looks beautiful too though only apart of her face is shown. And I love her shoes (lol).

    The painting by Ebyl has a something in it that I couldn’t explain. It stands out than the rest of the paintings.

    Beautiful post Kay.

  8. Lovely post !

  9. Lovely photos! Thanks for posting these.

  10. I found your blog by way of Books and Movies “links for Saturday” These pictures are beautiful! How I would love to be surrounded by them in my own cozy book nook.

    I look forward to following your blog in the future.

  11. Both, the Girl Reading and Young Woman Reading are gorgeous.

    Love this post.

  12. How lovely.
    You know I look just like that when I’m reading. 🙂 lol

  13. ohhh – a post after my own heart. Love the Perugini!! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Absolutely beautiful!

  15. Thank you for the beautiful post. I have the Engagement Calendar from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston that Heidenkind mentioned. It is called The Reading Woman.

  16. Wow, what an amazing post! I loooove these paintings, they really are beautiful! Many more like these were also featured in a book called WOMEN WHO READ ARE DANGERSOUS:
    I bought my copy a while ago and was actually thinking of doing a review of it, don’t know why I haven’t yet …
    Anyway, thanks for this beautiful post!

  17. nice post. love vermeer too!

  18. This is a beautiful post, I love it. When I grow up and have my own house, my walls will hopefully be covered in gorgeous paintings like this. 😀

  19. I looove these paintings…though I do wish that the women in them were a bit more modest in the way that they dressed. I wouldn’t call these appropriate for children, but they are fine pieces of art.


  1. The Beauty of Reading – Part III « The Infinite Shelf – A Book Blog - [...] To see part I, click here. [...]

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