MFAH Book Club Tours

This is where art and literature meet! Designed for established book clubs—whether formal or informal groups—the MFAH Book Club links works of literature to works of art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The MFAH Book Club presents three selections per year. Each book:

  • Is featured for a four-month period in the fall, spring, or summer
  • Is accompanied by a downloadable discussion guide to facilitate group discussions
  • Culminates with a docent-led tour at the Museum, scheduled in advance (see below).

Fall 2014

The Masterpiece by Émile Zola

Tours related to this book are available between September 2 and December 30, 2014.

The 1886 novel The Masterpiece is set in France during the Second Empire, from 1852 to 1870, under the Imperial Bonapartist regime of Napoleon III. Émile Zola imparts the story of Naturalist painter Claude Lantier, who lives in a Bohemian world. Lantier strives to complete a masterpiece that reflects his talent and genius as a revolutionary, but he struggles to live up to his artistic potential. Though brilliant, Lantier is misunderstood and scorned by the art-going public because of their expectation for traditional subjects and styles.

Zola's novel explores the rise of Realism, Naturalism, and Impressionism in painting, along with contemporaneous developments in sculpture, literature, architecture, music, and journalism. Suggested edition: Oxford World’s Classics 2008.

The novel is:

  • Book 14 of Émile Zola’s 20-book series called Les Rougon-Macquart. Each of the novels stands alone, and each exemplifies French Naturalism.
  • Believed to be a highly fictionalized account of Zola's friendship with painter Paul Cézanne. It was, perhaps, too personal for Cézanne, who ended his correspondence with Zola soon after receiving a copy of the novel as a gift from the novelist.

How to Participate

For book clubs and other groups of six or more confirmed participants:

  1. Read the book. MFAH Book Club selections may be purchased at The MFAH Shop, where MFAH members always receive a discount. Reading copies are also available in the Museum’s Hirsch Library.
  2. Download the discussion guide to facilitate your conversation. This guide features questions about the book and works of art in the MFAH collections and exhibitions.
  3. Request a docent-led tour by e-mailing—a minimum of 2 weeks in advance—with the following information:

    • The name of your group
    • The primary organizer's name
    • A telephone number and e-mail address
    • Your preferred date and time (see below)
  4. Look for a confirmation e-mail, within 3 to 5 business days, for information about when and where to meet the docent at the Museum.

Tours for Émile Zola’s The Masterpiece
September 2–December 30, 2014
Tuesdays, 2 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.
Wednesdays, 2 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.
Thursdays, 10:30 am, 3:30 p.m., or 6:30 p.m.
Sundays, 2 p.m. or 3:30 p.m.

Questions? E-mail


What to Expect on an MFAH Book Club Tour

Docents facilitate tours selecting several works of art on view at the Museum that they feel best connect with the featured book. Excerpts from the book are a vital component of the discussion-based tour, so it is recommended you bring your copy of the book along. Lively discussion of the book and the works of art are highly encouraged.

The tours last approximately one hour. Camp stools are provided for seating.

MFAH Book Club tours are free with general Museum admission for nonmembers. Admission is always free for MFAH members.


Planning Ahead?

The MFAH Book Club selection for spring 2015 is a classic of Japanese literature: The Pillow Book, by Court gentlewoman Sei Shōnagon (c. 966–1017). Suggested edition: Penguin Books 2006.

Tours are available January 2–April 27, 2015. Check back for a discussion guide! Contact for more information.


The MFAH Book Club receives generous support from Aggie and Joe Foster.

All education programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.