I have this little project going on on Pinterest which involves collecting as many paintings and illustrations depicting women and girls reading as possible. So far, the board has 998 images (possible a few repeated), and I add to it almost everyday, mostly with the help of sites like Reading and Artthomerama and Women Reading.

I’ve been meaning to post here about my favorites, but as the collection grows it becomes more difficult to choose. With some effort I managed my gather my top 50, which I’m sure would change if I chose them tomorrow. The images below are just a sample chosen at random (really randomly, using a number generator!).

What fascinates me about these paintings is how varied they are. You’ll find little girls and old matrons, mothers and maidens, aristocrats and their cleaning ladies, religious women reading the Bible and women on the beach reading Tropic of Cancer, women enjoying some time alone and others reading in a group or out-loud. Some are seen from a distance, almost spied on, others look into our eyes. Some are serious, others on the verge of a giggle, some bold, others shy. They all make me want to go up to them and start up a conversation about what they’re reading and how they’re find it so far.

One thing is clear: artists from different times and cultures have been fascinated by images of women reading. There’s something very intimate and tranquil about them, or maybe the painters (mostly men) are curious and jealous of this personal time. It fascinates me.

I haven’t been able to find the author of two of them – maybe you can help? Any of your favorites that I missed?

The Rest of my Top 50

“Fellow Readers” on Pinterest

Missed Connection (2004)
Adrian Tomine (USA, 1974-)

This was the the cover of The New Yorker in November 2004. I love the “comics” feel to it and the serendipity in theme. If it was a movie, they’d sit opposite each other the following week.

Seated Woman
Jules Adolphe Goupil (France, 1839–1883)

This is definitely a pose (her choice or the painters, I wonder?) and she knows she looks great.  My favorite thing about this one is the color arrangement between the pastels and the black background. Gorgeous dress.

A Place of Her Own
James Christensen (USA, 1942-)

What the artist said about it:

“I wanted to create a retreat, a secluded little nook filled with art and books where a woman could really get away from it all. Here, the tension melts away as lilting strains of lute music drift across the overstuffed cushions. The objects in the room represent the things that I believe are important to a full and satisfying life: Rembrandt’s painting ‘Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer’ (culture and the arts); the medieval Unicorn Tapestries (magic and belief); maps (curiosity and exploration); sheet music (music and creativity) and the books, treasures which represent the collected wisdom of the ages. Take a close look at the books – there’s one of my very favorite new books buried in there somewhere!”

Les Muses (1893)
Maurice Denis (France, 1870-1943)

Lovely colors. All nine muses are there, I wonder which one is sharpening her pencil – Calliope of Epic Poetry maybe?


David Hettinger (USA, 1946-)

One of the few in my top-50 without a name. I’ve looked on the artist’s website with no luck. The mother is there but her mind somewhere else. Have the feeling I’ve witnessed many similar scenes. Very summer-ish.

A girl reading a book by the River Rhine
Igor Shin Moromisato (Brazil)

This is one of the most repined and liked images in my collection. It could be me in thousands of similar moments in my life, only replace the Rhine with the Tagus.

Elegant Women in a Library
Edouard Gelhay (France, 1856 – 1939)

Yes, they’re elegant, but that’s not what strikes me the most. They look curious, intent, absorbed.

Girl Reading
Alfred Émile Stevens  (1823-1906)

This is one of my favorites of all. She’s so comfortable, so immersed in her book. Is that a party dress and she’s making time until someone picks her up, or is it a morning/afternoon dress and she was distracted away from her knitting duties?

The Communicant (1900)
Julius Garibaldi Melchers (USA, 1860-1932)

How striking is this one? She’s all cool perfection and statue-like. I was surprised the artist was American because there’s something very Dutch about the whole thing. Have you noticed that the girls’ shape is the opposite of blue holy water holder?

Girl in a Red Dress Reading by a Swimming Pool (1887)
Sir John Lavery (Ireland, 1856-1941)

Everything is blue, but she’s red. Like the one above reading by the Rhine,  I’ve been in this pose countless times.