Covering Romance: Romance Novel Cover Art by John Ennis

First things first!

This exhibit is open next weekend only, February 16, 17, and 18, from 12-5pm at the AOY Art Center at Yardley, PA. So if you want to go, next weekend is it. For more information, visit

I drove up to see the Ennis exhibit Covering Romance, as it is majorly relevant to my interests but also a really interesting juxtaposition of art, specifically oil painting, popular culture, and romance history. Since I’ve been looking at a lot of romance history through the Romantic Times Rewind podcasts, seeing the original artwork that created some iconic and memorable old skool romances seemed logical. I wasn’t even the farthest traveler, either: I met a lovely person who’d flown in from Duluth just for the show! (Hi!!)

The Covering Romance exhibit is in an historic stone house, but there is a lot of art to see. I learned from talking to John Ennis and to the AOY Director, Bette Souvinee, that Mr. Ennis had taken measurements and photographs of the rooms, then used Photoshop to arrange the paintings. This seems like a Very Obvious compliment, but the way the colors of the art flowed from one to the other showed how much thought went into displaying them as a group, as sets of four or in pairs, and individually.

And speaking of colors. Y’all. My goodness.

A series of six oil paintings by John ennis in various shades of blue, featuring women in various stages of undress from gowns of yellow, green and gold, with oceans and giant flowers behind them. The overall effect is a lush and glowing blue collection

I spent a lot of time in front of that wall.

Another grouping of four, this time with two that are predominantly blue and alongside them are two that are more peach, fuchsia, and gold

Lush and luminous.

Two oil paintings of romance covers, One with a woman in a plaid laying back with a shirtless guy about to climb on her with a lock in the background. below that is an orange sun and a man kneeling behind a woman in a white shirt with fire behind them - really close by

Swans absolutely freaking out? HECK YEAH. Also, I’m pretty sure that’s Fabio in both images.

I overheard John Ennis talking to other guests and one gentleman asked him about how much it cost to have Fabio pose for him. Fabio, it turns out, was first painted by Mr. Ennis when Fabio was just starting out in modeling in New York, and was about $65 per hour.

The way the process worked was also interesting, though I knew parts of it: the models would be hired and dressed, and Mr. Ennis would do art direction for poses and positions while a photographer took pictures. The photographs would then be used to do the oil painting. Then came Photoshop, and Mr. Ennis mentioned that he’d done several hundred oil paintings, but more than a thousand digital paintings for cover art.

There was also a lot of John DeSalvo.

A Long haired John DeSalvo shirtless in some kinda suspicious looking water holding a white woman with long dark hair and a purple gown in a lifeguard carry

This is Starlight Child by Nancy Cane.  All of the paintings were for sale, and other guests I spoke with had already made their shopping list of which ones they wanted to buy. Most were in the $300-400 range, though there were some smaller ones for $150 and $75.

A white man with a mullet and a gold arm band and no shirt obvs stans in front of a tent? maybe? and there's a moon or a space station in the sky, and he's embracing a woman with long gold hair and a green ruffled dress

This is Ascent to the Stars by Christine Michels. Y’all need to see the description:

A talented young actress, Coventry Pearce had played more roles than she could remember. But none had prepared her for the part of a real-life heroine wrapped up in a daring rescue mission – and caught in the delicious embrace of a tempting stranger.

For Trace, the assignment should have been simple. Any Thadonian warrior could take a helpless female to safety in exchange for valuable information against his diabolical enemies. But as fiery as a supernova, as radiant as a sun, Coventry was no mere woman. Even as he raced across the galaxy to save his doomed world, Trace battled to deny a burning desire that would take him to the heavens and beyond.

Oh, yeah. Space romances.

a set of four paintings above a mantel each featuring a dude in historical garb and mostly done in blues and purples with one in the middle that's red and orange

There was a mantle of dudes .

John DeSalvo, again with a mullet, and white woman with light blonde hair and a purple gown embrace against a domed portal with a deep blue sky behind them

There were a number of what were called Futuristic romances. This is Star Crossed by Saranne Dawson:

Rowena, a weaver of enchanted tapestries, is sent to assassinate Zachary MacTavesh, an enemy leader who prefers to conquer damsels rather than cities, and finds a stunningly seductive rival in the new target of his passions.

Not even magic can help Rowena foresee that she will be sent to assassinate an enemy leader. Her duty is clear–until the seductive beauty falls under the spell of the man she is supposed to kill. Soon she learns that Zachary’s reputation as a war-mongering barbarian is undeserved.

Heroine’s CV: assassinations, weaving magic tapestries. Amazing.

A white redhaired woman in a green gown in the surf up to her calves is embraced by a guy who has his shirt tucked in but still open as he maybe swings from a rope? Dead center are some ABS.


This is Promise Me Forever by Cara Miles, in which a debutante doesn’t want to marry any of the dudes, and especially not that one, a privateer named Hawke.

Here’s a big bowl of yikes:

There were also a lot of gladiolus flowers, jewels that sparkled, and in one case, a charm bracelet:

A woman in a purple gown with long red hair and a guy with his shirt half off, with a charm bracelet floating in the air behind them and in the top left corner is another image of the two laying down on some rocks ow to go to boentown

This is Silver Angel, but not the one with Chantelle by Johanna Lindsey. This Silver Angel is by Phoebe Fitzjames and the heroine’s name is Bridey. Bridey, you might want to warn that dude the charm bracelet’s about to clock him.

These were some of my favorites:

A marion Chesney novel alongside the original art featuring a woman in an orange and burgundy regency gown and a dude in a long coat standing behind her in a blue parlor

That’s The Poor Relation by Marion Chesney, aka M.C. Beaton.

I also love how some images have large single color areas for the cover copy and title, and some have a lot of space above or behind the couple.  These two got a really nice parlor!

I took this from an angle to avoid the glare of the light:

A painting of a woman in a purple empire waist gown being embraced by a blonde dude in a cutaway coat Taken from the side to avoid glare

That’s Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton, and the book is peeking out on the far side of the painting on the mantel.

my hand holding the book cover in front of the painting where a blonde fabio dude is shirtless waist deep in water holding a towel maybe around the backside of a white woman with dark hair who is also topless

Alongside, or nearby, or on a window sill were copies of the books or cover flats  -remember those? Publishers used to have cardstock cover flats, which were the cover before it was folded around the paperback book. I had one for my first book in 2009, but by 2011 I don’t think they were as common.

This one tickled me:

A very lavendar and peach image with small figures of women lounging on chairs then a picture of a stern white woman in a white hat and gown looking to her left, and the cover image is a man in a purple waistcoat an white shirt embracing a white woman from behind like he's sniffing her shoulder blade, and she's leaning back into him wearing an ivory gown and opera length gloves

This is The Scarlet Thread by Becky Lee Weyrich.

I had originally thought this was one of the riverboat gambler romances that were popular for a time, but I was wrong. The summary mentions “Sisters of Sin,” and the cover copy I found reads,

Desiree La Fleur was full of hope as she journeyed to New Orleans to improve conditions in the red light district. But she is mistaken for a shady lady, thrown in jail and is now at the mercy of Roman St. Vincent–who is not so sure Desiree is innocent.

So: Sisters of Sin, huh? Let’s have a closer look:

A close up of the women lounging and one has a purple negligee on with purple and pink striped hose!

The Sisters of Sin have COOL HOSIERY!! Look at the stripes!

One last cover:

The cover art for Passion's Sweet Revenge featuring a brown haired white woman in a purple gown with her hands on her hips looking frustrated and the main couple are in a snowbank by a river with giant snowflakes falling and the blonde heroine is wearing a coral gown (in the RIVER GIRL get OUT you'll get hypothermia) whiel being embraced by a man with dark hair and a white shirt and waistcoat

This is Passion’s Sweet Revenge by Jo Goodman, and I love how exasperated the figure in the upper left is. However, I don’t think you should go to bone town in the snow by a creek bed in winter, but I’m always cold, so what do I know?

I love romance novel oil paintings, and love to see which ones are on eBay every now and again. I also have the original oil painting for The Lion and the Lark on my office wall:

The Lion and the Lark by Doreen Owens Malek has John desalvo with long flower dark hair and a very pink galdiator toga grasping the warm of a woman wit hred hair and a bright yellow gown with astonishing cleavage

So seeing an entire exhibit of them was delightful for me, even though some of the imagery made my eyebrows climb right into my hairline. So many of the hallmarks of old romance covers on so many individual paintings: fuchia! Coral! Impossibly long, voluminous hair! Erect things in the background! Swans and horses freaking tf out! Shirts tucked in but wide open! Mullets all the way down! And plenty of DeSalvo.

If you can make the trip to see the exhibit next weekend, I recommend it. It’s a small space, but there’s a lot to see with paintings everywhere, and I went through each room at least twice. It’s a unique collection, especially because it captures a style of cover art and a style of romance fiction that are very much of the past, but the images are so detailed and painted so that they seem to glow.


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