Travel Without Traveling: Books That Take You Away

Apr 6, 2020

While the Decorative Arts Trust’s travel plans are on hold for the spring, our members can still capture the adventure of journeying to new and exciting locations. Try picking up these captivating books to take you away to some of our favorite sites. With bookstores and libraries closed, consider an online order or obtaining audiobooks or e-book versions. Many libraries offer recorded books and digital books for free with a library card, and the Internet Archive houses millions of e-books. 

LadyingoldThe Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
by Anne-Marie O’Connor
(Knopf, 2012) 

This riveting story set in Vienna takes us back to the Trust’s Prague & Vienna Study Trip Abroad in 2018. O’Connor’s spellbinding tale traces artist Gustav Klimt’s 1907 portrait of Jewish socialite Adele Bloch-Bauer, the painting’s confiscation by the Nazis, a decade-long litigation between the Austrian government and the Bloch-Bauer heirs, and how the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision had profound ramifications in the art world. For more of this story, see the historical documentary Stealing Klimt, which was released in 2007, and the film Woman in Gold, which was released in 2015.

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss
by Edmund de Waal 
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010)

Also reminiscent of the Trust’s journey to Vienna is this memoir of world-famous ceramicist Edmund de Waal as he investigates an inherited collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings called netsuke. Through these objects, de Waal discovers the history of his family, the Ephrussis, a 19th-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna that lost their fortune by the end of World War II. 

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter
(Center Street, 2009) 

Focusing on the 11-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, and art historians called the Momuments Men and their mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis. The book reminds the Trust of many of our travels through Europe, visiting the top museums and historical sites. During World War II, Hitler catalogued art he planned to collect as well as “degenerate” works he planned to destroy. In a race against time, the Monuments Men risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. The film The Monuments Men, based on the book, hit the big screen in 2014. 

Castles in the Air: The Restoration Adventures of Two Young Optimists and a Crumbling Old Mansion
by Judy Corbett
(Ebury Press, 2005)

Castles in the Air is the autobiographical tale of Corbett and her husband Peter Welford rescuing 500-year-old Gwydir Castle. When the couple encountered the mansion in the foothills of Snowdonia, the structure was inhabited by rats, toads, strange smells, and squatters. The passion for place and historical details of the book harken us back to the Wales & the Welsh Marches Study Trip Abroad in 2019. 

Girl with a Pearl Earring
by Tracy Chevalier
(Dutton Adult, 2000) 

The story of Dutch Baroque painter Johannes Vermeer and his model Greit reminds us of the Trust’s recent Study Trip Abroad An Embarrassment of Riches: Tracing the Dutch Golden Age in Amsterdam & Maastricht’s TEFAF. A Girl with a Pearl Earring film based on the novel was produced in 2004. Chevalier followed this novel with The Lady and the Unicorn, a text chronicling a set of bewitching medieval tapestries that hangs in the Cluny Museum in Paris. 

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
by John Berendt
(Random House, 1994) 

Savannah, GA, comes to life in this true-crime book with a twisting plot and a motley group of quirky characters. The book lets us travel back to our Savannah: Low Country Sophistication Symposium in 2017, when we visited many of the sites mentioned in the story. A shooting in one of Savannah’s grand mansions reverberates throughout the hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. Brilliantly written, this engaging portrait of a beguiling Southern city has become a modern classic. Following this novel, Berendt turned to the city of Venice as his inspiration for The City of Falling Angels

The Decorative Arts Trust loves books, as you can see from recent reviews of books about curious objects and their collectors from The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust

In fact, the Decorative Arts Trust chooses a summer reading book each year to send as a benefit to members at the Patron level and above. Recipients are encouraged to enjoy the gift and discuss their reactions with other members. The 2019 summer reading selection was The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America by Jennifer Van Horn. 

Can you recommend any other decorative arts or travel books for fellow readers?  If so, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments. 

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