Crown Publishing Group
Published April 6, 2010
Hard Cover, 338 pages
This is the passionate love story of the famous 19th-century
French Impressionist painter, Claude Monet and beautiful, ethereal Camille Doncieux. The world knows Monet as a venerable white-bearded successful artist in his garden at Giverny. This novel allows us to get a glimpse into his early years as a struggling painter at the center of the Impressionist movement and his love affair with an upper-class Parisian.
Camille falls hopelessly in love with Monet and leaves her comfortable lifestyle at her family home to throw in her lot with his bohemian lifestyle. Monet paints and paints but cannot sell his work, so Monet and Camille struggle to survive. They live on credit and charity of friends in order to have the necessities of life. At times they are kicked out of their lodgings and often suffer the indignities of destitution. At one point Monet is forced to scrape down canvasses in order to have something on which to paint (he can’t afford new canvasses) and borrows paint from his fellow artists.
He is in good company, however, with friends like Renoir, Pisarro, Cezanne and Manet, who encourage one another to keep going. The importance of friendship is a strong theme in this book. Despite everything, Camille stands by him and believes in his work. She is portrayed in many of his paintings. Nevertheless, he sometimes leaves her and their son for months at a time to paint in the countryside. Monet is a driven man, desperate to paint and to receive recognition. Eventually he begins to sell his work and they enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle. Camille and Monet have a second child and then life takes an unexpected turn for the worst. Heartbreak ensues. But art continues until old age.
The author has great descriptive ability that evokes Paris of the 1800s:
“Paris, where the emperor and his wife rode through the streets in their carriage, where mansions and palaces rubbed walls with hovels. Thousands of cafes, their windows painted with advertisements; thousands of alleys, whose brick houses were pasted with posters. In stately green parks, sunlight danced through the trees onto the women’s fine dresses and onto the feathers and silk flowers on their hats.”
If you’ve ever taken a trip to Monet’s home in Giverny and seen his lush gardens there and/or have reveled in his paintings at the Orangerie in Paris, you will love this novel. It is a very poignant telling of the events and determination that led up to his wonderful, delicate, light-filled paintings.
Reviewed by Sandra
Note: This book is rated C = clean read.