Publishing director Emma Herdman has acquired the lush and intricately sewn historical novel, The Portrait Artist, by debut Faber Academy alumni Dani Heywood-Lonsdale at auction. UK and Commonwealth (ex. Canada) and audio rights were acquired from Olivia Maidment in a two book deal. Bloomsbury will publish in hardback, ebook and audio in January 2025.

One morning in 1890, a painting wrapped in brown paper appears on the steps of the National Gallery and causes a sensation. It’s clearly by Timothy Ponden-Hall, an artist whose paintings were famous, controversial, debated not just for their beauty but for the story behind them: they were believed to immortalise the soul of the subject.

But the mysterious explorer and artist has been thought dead for the last 50 years – so what does this new portrait mean? The Gallery brings in renowned art historian and Ponden-Hall expert Solomon Oak to investigate, but as he races against time to uncover the truth, he discovers that exposing Ponden-Hall’s legacy will prove more controversial than he could have imagined for Victorian society.

Heywood-Lonsdale says: ‘I have long admired the compelling and creative titles at Bloomsbury, so it is a genuine dream come true to join the team with The Portrait Artist. I wanted to write a novel that explored the identities and voices quietly living in the margins of late Victorian society—a time period I love. I also wanted to play with the roles of art, rumour and storytelling in achieving immortality. It is the greatest privilege to work with Emma Herdman, whose brilliant insight, compassion and wisdom have blown me away. And I am forever grateful to Olivia Maidment, the most supportive and enthusiastic agent, for believing in this story and getting me here.’

Maidment says: ‘I am so happy that Dani will be published by Bloomsbury whose passion and vision aligned so perfectly with her own. The level of research, immediacy, humanity, and imagination that Dani has weaved into The Portrait Artist is something to behold, and I’m honoured to be her agent.’

Herdman says: ‘I raced through The Portrait Artist with its array of varied characters, vividly realised settings, and the thrilling art-based mystery at its heart. Dani is a wonderful, gifted storyteller and a dynamic writer, whose work has that moral complexity that makes you desperate to discuss with the nearest person as soon as you turn the last page. We’re so excited about The Portrait Artist, and what’s to come next.’