This week I read The Center of the World by Thomas Van Essen. When asked about his inspiration for writing the novel, Van Essen answered that while in a nineteenth century nonfiction graduate course, his professor related a story about Ruskin supposedly burning J.M.W. Turner's erotic sketches. Van Essen began to wonder whether or not the sketches were actually part of a larger project, like an erotic painting unknown to the art world. It could be possible because most artists of Turner's caliber wouldn't waste time on studies.
The Center of the World is told in multiple voices and spans the Romantic period when Turner was painting, the early twentieth century when the robber barons were feathering their nests, and present-day New York City and Princeton. Turner is challenged by his patron Lord Egremont to paint a painting to surpass all others about a topic that, according to Turner, rules the world. The subject of the painting is Helen of Troy, and the painting is entitled The Center of the World. I won't go into details about Lord Egremont and Turner's conversation because it is very graphic, but this is the general idea: