10 Great Works of Literature and the Famous Artworks That Should Illustrate Them

Literature and art often work best together. Walk into the New York Public Library and you’ll find a heaven of books amid decadent paintings. Frank O’Hara’s 1957 poem, “Why I Am Not a Painter,” is best read alongside Michael Goldberg’s painting, Sardines. More recently, Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs came up with Bookcam, a sculpture that, as its title suggests, is a working camera made out of books. And The Book Lovers, the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts‘ current exhibition, which features novels by Carl Andre, Salvador Dalí, and Andy Warhol, is all about the relationship between books and art. The show inspired us to explore that relationship further by matching artworks to our favorite pieces of literature – we think these would make fantastic illustrations.

Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Henri Rousseau’s Tiger in a Tropical Storm (1891)


The climate of the jungle in Rousseau’s painting is worlds apart from the biting Baltic cold of Obreht’s debut novel. Still, there’s something about The Tiger’s Wife that evokes Rousseau’s tiger. Both animals have a magical quality surrounding them, invoking a sense of childlike awe, perhaps like the kind Obreht’s protagonist experiences when her grandfather takes her to the zoo to see the tigers as a five-year-old. The tiger’s athleticism is fascinating. As Obreht writes, “The tiger had no destination, only the constant tug of self-preservation in the pit of his stomach, some vague, inborn sense of what he was looking for, which carried him onward.” This tiger’s pounce, in Rousseau’s painting, seems propelled by a similarly inward force, one that the viewer can’t see but is drawn to imagine stirring beneath his fur.