Victoria’s Book Tip

There are some books that will always stay with us. In this new series, creative people share a book that has made a big impression on them. After Jennifer Orkin Lewis and Monika Forsberg, it’s now the turn of artist Victoria Johnson, who tells us more about a biography she will always remember.

“I’ve always read copiously, especially classic fiction. Some of my favorite authors are the Brontë sisters, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Donna Tartt, Victor Hugo, Toni Morrison and Charles Dickens. But the book I’m choosing is Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell. It’s actually non-fiction, and was fascinating to me on so many levels. It’s about the life of the American copper heiress Huguette Clark. Born into unimaginable wealth and excess, she recently ended her long life alone, in a tiny room overlooking air-conditioning units, in a Manhattan hospital.

She was a renowned recluse and her legacy was a series of magnificent houses, maintained by teams of staff, but abandoned for decades. Her father epitomized the American dream, the pursuit of money and recognition, and Huguette represented the opposite. Her life was filled with privilege and potential opportunity and she turned her back on it to an astonishing degree. The story calls into question what constitutes happiness, what creates value and meaning in a life. To Huguette, the most important thing in life was her treasured doll collection.”

“Some of the highlights are the history of Huguette’s father’s rise to fame and fortune, during a unique period in American history, and the detailed descriptions of extraordinary properties, filled with extraordinary things.  A heartbreakingly sad aspect of the story is how she was taken advantage of in later life. I find that as I get older, I’m more and more interested in books that have a political and historical context. I’m reading to learn about the world as much as to be entertained. I tend to read at night, just before going to sleep, but nothing beats a Sunday afternoon spent reading in bed.”

“I think these two paintings relate to the faded grandeur of the story.”

Victoria Johnson is an English artist and designer. She lives in Rome with her Italian husband and two children. Prior to that, she lived in New York, US, for 12 years, where she had her own design agency. Victoria’s work appears on a variety of products, from clothing to furniture to paper.

  • Next week, it’s the turn of illustrator Flora Waycott, who will share which book has proved to be unforgettable for her.

Illustration homepage: Jennifer Orkin Lewis