Thursday, December 31, 2009

A new year's thought: Monet wanted a few more good years

In October 1890 Monet wrote a letter to the art critic Gustave Geffroy about the hay stacks series he was painting, saying: "I'm hard at it, working stubbornly on a series of different effects, but at this time of year the sun sets so fast that it's impossible to keep up with it ... the further I get, the more I see that a lot of work has to be done ...I'm increasingly obsessed by the need to render what I experience, and I'm praying that I'll have a few more good years left to me because I think I may make some progress in that direction.."

Monet was fifty when he wrote this. He would live 36 years more and leave the earth only months after he had finished his huge garden panels which now hang in the Orangerie in Paris. In 1890, he could not comprehend his future, anymore than we can ours. What miracles may happen this year to any of us?

A New Year's thought for you!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

searching for the real Camille

Who was she really, this woman Claude loved so much and lost so young? Sad how the great loves and models of so many artists have disappeared into the mists of time. She was born in Lyon in 1847, making her just seven years younger than the handsome Claude. And yet still, almost a century and a half after they met in Paris and fell in love, fragments of her life and personality are emerging. In 1947 a maid in the house of a descendant of Claude's best friend Bazille found a box of drawings, prints, and photographs, some sketches by Claude of her. Then some twenty years ago, a journal by an older friend of Monet's was found, describing her charm. And after this what do we have? The many paintings where her artist lover showed her not simply a female shape in the midst of light, but her lovely face. We have few portraits by Monet showing the clear features of his model, but Camille he painted clearly.

How does a novelist take such slender information and form a story? One can tell something of his intense feelings for her in that he truly painted her. She is 19 in this picture. I feel her elusiveness and his intense love.

The writer Ruth Butler also searched for Camille in her nonfiction book Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model Wives of Cézanne, Monet, & Renoir.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas among the impressionists... a hard subject to research, and I am afraid I have come up with very little but that Edouard Manet once gave Berthe Morisot an easel for Christmas. I would most kindly appreciate any more information from my readers. Though Claude Monet was not religious in any way (but for nature), his second wife Alice was a devout Catholic and surely walked down the cold road a short way from Giverny to the church for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

A happy holiday to the many readers of this blog!

The painting is of course Monet's famous MAGPIE IN THE SNOW.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

CLAUDE & CAMILLE's new cover

It is 3 1/2 exciting months until publication of Claude & Camille: a novel of Claude Monet (Crown) and the newly designed cover uses Claude's haunting portrait of a woman. She seems to blend with the sky, almost becoming the air, not quite obtainable, the ideal feminine. So for those many people who are accustomed to the original cover of a photograph of two young lovers, I can assure you not one word of the passionate story has been changed, but the art on the book jacket has now rightfully been given to the young painter himself.

The original of the 1886 painting can be found in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

Degas and his ballet girls

Degas turned to painting and drawing ballet girls in the 1870s, having obtained a pass to attend rehearsals; it is estimated he portrayed them in sketch or final work at least 1500 times.

The ballet girls were then lowly paid working girls, dancing to bring their families out of poverty, often accepting a wealthy lover to pay the bills. (The young adult novel Marie Dancing by Carolyn Meyer is a wonderful portrayal of Degas and the young girl who modeled for his Little Dancer.) Degas was also fascinated by the angles of the gaslit theater which the Goncourts in their journals described as "tenebrous and glimmering...forms that disappear into shadows in the smoky, dusty silence."

The young girls, pushed by their mothers into the world, were often desperate and hungry, an odd reality which one does not see in their delicate depictions by the intense Degas. And, one might ask, where are the male dancers? Where was the Parisian Nureyev? Ah, but ballet in 19th century Paris was almost entirely feminine! When Coppelia was performed in 1870, even the principal male role was danced by a woman! No lifting the prima ballerina above "his" head, I imagine! But all this is another story, belonging more to the history of the ballet than a blog on the French impressionists.

This painter taught Monet and Renoir?

This is a typical painting by the Swiss artist Marc Gabriel Charles Gleyre. Monet and Renoir found themselves his students in the 1860s for a time and soon left due to (shall we say?) radical differences of style. In my endless paths of research for CLAUDE & CAMILLE, I came across a description of his Paris studio which was typical of the time:

"....a great barn, where the wind came in through every crack, lit by two enormous windows...a model stand, a high stool, two broken chairs, an old armchair, a chest of drawers which held drawings, a table with a basin and some soft soap for washing brushes...two or three easels and portfolios leaning up against the walls and a coal house for storing fuel. Gleyre would not allow anyone to sweep up because dust was bad for paintings, and he used for a long time to sleep in the room on a camp bed and so caught rheumatism."

This is from a fascinating book called Daily Life of French Artists in the Nineteenth Century by Jacques Letheve, translated by Paddon.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

the first novel about an impressionist was written in 1886

The writer Émile Zola was good friends with the struggling artists who became the impressionists, but was especially close to Cézanne whom he had known since childhood. However, in 1886 Zola used his intimate knowledge of the art world and studios and fictionalized the life of the sensitive Cézanne and the Bohemian world of the painters in his novel L'oeuvre (The Masterpiece). Some people have suggested that the model for the tormented painter (called Claude!) was really based on Claude Monet, who said he did not recognize himself or any of his colleagues in the book. Others said it was Edouard Manet who served as inspiration. Likely it was a composite portrait of many artists.

The scene in the novel where the artist paints and repaints his canvas until he destroys it entirely is very depressing, but the portrait of the art world of Paris in the 1860s and 1870s is wonderful.

Manet painted this portrait of Zola almost 20 years before the novelist would write L'oeuvre.

who really was Victorine Meurent?

A few years ago when I was in the Metropolitan Museum gift shop ferreting out research books for my novel CLAUDE & CAMILLE: A NOVEL OF MONET, I found a fascinating, slim paperback about an art historian's search in old Paris archives for clues to the life of Manet's favorite model, Victorine Meurent. Called ALIAS OLYMPIA, the author Eunice Lipton tells of her determined chase to discover what she could of this fascinating model. Part biography, part memoir and some fiction, I found it an unusual and compelling book.

The independent Victorine, who also played guitar and violin, broke off from Manet when she began to take art lessons on her own. One year her work was accepted to the prestigious Salon when Manet's was refused. Only one of her paintings is known to survive. The writer George Moore who met her in Paris when she was older describes her as "a thin woman with red hair, brown small eyes set closely, reminding me of little glasses of cognac... She lit cigarette after cigarette..."

Friday, December 4, 2009

how two Welsh sisters helped save impressionism

In 1908 in mid-Wales, the sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies began their collection of impressionism at a time when the artists were still greatly ignored by most individuals and institutions. By the time they had finished, they had gathered works by Cézanne, Monet, Bonnard, Manet, Renoir and Van Gogh. Heirs to a great fortune, they slowly grew in their tastes. When they first viewed the artists' work in Paris, they claimed it was "too impressionistic" but Monet's paintings of Venice enchanted them and drew them in.

The collection (which includes Renoir's La Parisienne) is on loan from National Museum Wales to Amerca and will be shown at the following museums:
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse (October 9, 2009–January 3, 2010);
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (January 30–April 25, 2010);
Albuquerque Museum of Art & History, New Mexico (May 16–August 8, 2010).

For more information, see:

The picture of the sisters is from

how Monet almost didn't have his water lily garden

The truculent French fathers of the tiny town of Giverny exclaimed, "Non, monsieur!" when Claude proposed to install a water trough from the River Ru to the pond in his new land which he had purchased beyond his house and flower garden over rail tracks. It was 1893 and the peculiar artist had been their neighbor now for ten years. Now what did the odd fellow with his strange paintings want? The local people shook their heads, refusing his request. Monsieur wanted to grow peculiar aquatic plants in the pond? It would poison the water! Claude was furious and raged to his wife, "The hell with the natives of Giverny. Throw all the aquatic plants in the river!"

But the country residents of Giverny did not know how stubborn was the will of the 53-year-old painter. He would have this garden! After two months of letters to attorneys and newspapers, his requests were granted and the water lily pond began.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Monet familly in their garden of Argenteuil

Claude Monet lived from hand t0 mouth until he was nearly fifty but for a brief period of prosperity in his early thirties, likely engendered by an inheritance from his father. He and his wife Camille and their son Jean moved to a house with a good garden in Argenteuil, just outside Paris. One lovely afternoon he invited his friend Edouard Manet who impulsively painted the happy family, as seen in this lovely painting now in the Metropolitan Museum.

In 1924, Monet recalled: "During the sitting, Renoir arrived. . . . He asked me for palette, brush and canvas, and there he was, painting away alongside Manet. The latter was watching him out of the corner of his eye. . . . Then he made a face, passed discreetly near me, and whispered in my ear about Renoir: 'He has no talent, that boy! Since you are his friend, tell him to give up painting!'"

Renoir and Manet both gave their pictures to Monet.

Some of this information is from the web site of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Manet's scandalous nude Olympia

It is hard to believe what a scandal this painting by Manet in his early years caused when first exhibited. There had been nudes for thousands of years, but this one raised the ire of many, so much that guards had to stand close to prevent angry viewers from thrusting their umbrellas through it. As late as 1932, Paul Valéry said the painting was shocking still, a monster of profane love. As a modern woman, I still can't see anything particularly shocking about it...perhaps someone could comment and enlighten me?

At any rate, the nation of France acquired the painting in 1890 with a public subscription raised by Claude Monet, whom Manet had helped financially - a story I told in a previous post. A great favor returned by the generous Monet who, as soon as he had anything to give and a stable roof over his head, was glad to aid his friends. Years before he was one of the grieving pallbearers at Manet's tragically early death. How these impressionists were all connected!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the impressionists as parents: Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot, who at the age of 33 had married Edouard Manet's brother Eugene, found herself unable to become pregnant for some time. This was difficult in particular for both her sisters were mothers. She wrote to her sister Edma, "I am horribly depressed tonight, tired, on edge, out of sorts, having once more the proof that the joys of motherhood are not for me." At last, at age 37, she bore her daughter Julie. She had hoped for a boy but fell deeply in love with her little girl who was "like a kitten, always happy."

Julie later recalled her "artistic and tender mother." She wrote a diary published about twenty years ago called Growing Up with the Impressionists. How fascinating to have a life where Renoir was always dropping in and asking the pretty Julie to model!

The painting is Julie Manet and Her Greyhound Laertes by her mother Berthe Morisot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

the impressionists as parents: Renoir

Auguste Renoir was in his fifties and his wife Aline much younger when their son Jean was born.

Jean wrote, "I was a spoilt child. My family enclosed me in a protective wall softly padded on the inside. Beyond this wall, impressive persons came and went. I would have liked to join them and be impressive myself...when I discerned a breach in the wall, I uttered cries of alarm. My father loved to paint my hair...I did not look at my father's pictures, but I was aware of them." Later Jean was sent to boarding school which he hated, and from which he regularly ran away.

The picture is Jean drawing, created by the famous father and the quote is from My Life and My Films by Jean Renoir. Many years later, the little golden-haired Jean would become one of the great French filmmakers.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

guess who made this caricature?

Believe it or not, this is an example of the humble beginnings of the old master of Giverny himself before he ever heard of a water lily. The young Claude Monet (called "Oscar" by his family) hated school and by the time he was 17, was known throughout his town of Le Havre for his caricatures which made him a small fortune. Alas, one day he fell in with a local landscape artist called Boudin (more about him later) who challenged him to try landscape painting. Monet was swept away by the experience and soon had spent all his francs on paints and canvases. Everyone had wanted his caricatures and no one wanted his landscapes. At 37 he was a great deal poorer than he had been twenty years before.

Man Standing by a Desk by Claude Oscar Monet

self doubts from Pissarro...

On a visit to Paris with my friend we went of course to the Père Lachaise Cemetery where unexpectedly I found Pissarro's grave at the end of the row for Jewish graves. The trees seemed heavy and old above this quiet corner. I recalled the words of self-doubt from the great artist: "I have just concluded my series of paintings...sometimes I am horribly afraid to turn round canvases which I have piled against the wall; I am constantly afraid of finding monsters where I believed there were precious gems!"

Pissarro is shown with his wife Julie in Pontoise 1877. She was his mother's maid when he got her pregnant, which must have made for some interesting banging of doors at home. Lack of financial stability wore hard on her as she waited for her gentle husband to make his fortune in art.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

the lost impressionist, Frédéric Bazille

Frédéric is no longer lost to us, for in the past 25 years several art historians have written books about him and a number of museums borrowed his work for special exhibitions. But though it was his idea to gather his struggling artist friends Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and others into a private exhibition, fate intervened and the first exhibition of the impressionists went on without him. He came to Paris from a wealthy family in Montpellier on the promise that he would attend medical school and paint on the side. After months and years of writing his parents that his school exams had once more been inexplicably postponed, he gave himself up to full time painting.

Frédéric was a great friend and when the others had no place to crash, they slept on his floor. "My studio is full of needy painters," he wrote home happily. "Monet is the best of us." The genial, helpful Frédéric is the third major character in my novel CLAUDE AND CAMILLE: A NOVEL OF MONET (Crown, April 2010). His painting shown here - View of the Village of Castelnau-le-Lez - was created when he was 27 years old.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Edouard Manet at sea...

The painting is Manet's Moonlight over the Port of Boulogne, painted in 1869 when he was 37. If fate had turned another way, the blond dandy would have been on a ship rather than painting one from shore. When Edouard was seventeen, his father (who was not impressed by Edouard's dreams of a life in art) sent the young man on a training vessel to Rio de Janeiro. The navy was not to be his destiny for he twice failed the exam. However, he found the women on land charming (as he subsequently found many women) and some historians feel it was there that the sensual Edouard caught the syphilis which would bring on his early and tragic death.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Mary Cassatt and her sister Lydia

In 1877, Cassatt's parents and sister Lydia came to live in Paris with Mary who was struggling to gain some place in the art scene. As Mary had decided not to marry (and "dwindle into a wife"), Lydia was her close companion whom she painted several times. But Lydia was ill and after five years in Paris, she died. For a time Mary was too bereaved to work.

There is a lovely, thoughtful novel about the Cassatt sisters called "Lydia Cassatt reading the morning papers" by Harriet Scott Chessman. The portrait shown is Lydia two years before she died as painted by Mary.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

the closeness of sisters: Edma and Berthe Morisot

There were three Morisot sisters, daughters of an upper middle-class family in Paris, but it was the two younger, Edma and Berthe, who grew up as painters together, studying with Corot and copying at the Louvre. When Edma married Adolphe Pontillon and moved to Brittany, the separation was painful. Edma wrote: "I am often with you in my thoughts. I follow you everywhere in your studio and wish that I could escape, if only for a quarter of an hour, to breathe again that air in which we lived." The unmarried Berthe, then 28, replied, "Remember it is sad to be alone." Berthe did not marry until five years later; she had watched household responsibilities seep away the talent from her less-driven sister and vowed it would not happen to her.

Portrait of Edma Morisot by her sister Berthe

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A compassionate offer from Manet...

Manet's early painting, Luncheon on the Grass

From a letter 1875 to the art critic Duret:
"I went to see Monet yesterday. I found him in great distress, and at his wits' end. He asked me if I could find someone who would buy at choice ten or twenty of his paintings at 100 francs each. Do you think that we could fix him up between ourselves, each of us contributing 500 francs? Of course it must be understood that nobody, and he least of all, should know that we are arranging it ourselves."

Manet was not always so tactful or friendly to Claude Monet. When Monet had his first small success at the Salon, everyone congratulated Manet for it (confusing their names) which Manet did not like at all. He was a complex man in every way.

I am indebted for this translation once again to the excellent book The Impressionists at First Hand by Denvir. I owned it many years before the thought dawned on me to write about them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

after an impressionistic day picking apples...

My husband and I went apple picking, rather the last of the crop this late October day, and the light shone down making the grass glisten. The autumn foliage surrounded us and the world smelled of apples. Surely, it was a day and place made for an impressionist! I thought of a BERTHE MORISOT painting of young girls picking fruit, but it turned out they were picking cherries. I found another by her of a girl eating an apple under an apple tree.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The lost years of the Giverny gardens.

Forty years had passed since Claude Monet’s death when his younger son Michel died in 1966 and during that time little or nothing was done to keep up the gardens. The Academie des Beaux-Arts (the heirs to the property and house) found them in ruins. Rats overran them. The greenhouse panes and the windows in the house were reduced to shards after the bombings of World War II. Floors and ceiling beams had rotted away, a staircase collapsed. Three trees were even growing in the big studio. Almost ten years were necessary to restore the gardens to their former magnificence.

The new custodians expected only a modest number of visitors but, to their surprise, the numbers grew steadily until they now exceed a half million each year. One of the Giverny guides writes a poetic journal in French of life in the gardens today which can be found on line at

Renoir, the painter of café walls...

Most people don't know that for a time before his paintings sold, the young Auguste Renoir made a sort of living painting café walls. The family of one café owner was amazed as they watched him rush up and down a ladder "like a squirrel." The owner was so pleased with the painting of Venus rising from the waves that Renoir's reputation got around and soon he had covered twenty Paris café walls with murals. Alas, not one remains. He was just a thin, eager painter who could paint a lovely girl on a wall in exchange for a glass of wine or a bowl of soup. This story is from the marvelous memoir RENOIR: MY FATHER, by the film director Jean Renoir.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I am just truly discovering Cézanne...

...or rather I am rediscovering him, for I think with great writers, composers and artists you come to them anew as you grow and change. And in first getting to know the impressionists better, you can find yourself more drawn to one than another, as you find yourself talking more deeply to one person at a dinner party and later realize you missed the quiet man at your side who just sat drinking his soup!

Cézanne was an angry and difficult young man with few social graces and when he was old he was so obsessed with his painting that weather did not deter him and he became ill in a downpour and, disregarding all but his work, died soon after. I will give two quotes of this urgent, beloved visionary: "A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art," and "We live in a rainbow of chaos." Much more to come!

Susan Vreeland's novel about Renoir

I think nothing can bring the everyday lives of the French impressionists to us more vividly than fine, sensitive historical fiction. In Luncheon of the Boating Party, Susan Vreeland tells the fascinating story of the painter Renoir and his many friends, all who modeled, or loaned money, or sewed dresses, or gave encouragement, or provided a small dog, or struggled with love, as he painted his famous picture. How many people contribute each in their own way to create a work of art! Often their voices or the colors of their individual lives are lost to time. Susan Vreeland has heard and captured those voices and created as well a picture of this most modest painter Renoir who said he wanted to put beauty in the world not ugliness, and who, in his final days on earth, exclaimed that at last he understood how to paint a flower.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Monet seeking the impossible

"I am chasing a dream. I want the unattainable. Other artists paint a bridge, a house, a boat; and that's the end. They're finished. I want to paint the air which surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat, the beauty of the air in which these objects are located, and that is nothing short of impossible. If only I could satisfy myself with what is possible!"

from Denvir: "The Impressionists at First Hand"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

the blunt and gifted Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt’s parents objected to her becoming a professional artist, but even so this American painter moved to Paris to study in 1866 (the year Claude Monet met his love Camille) with her mother of course as chaperone. Women could not attend the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts at that time, so she studied privately. After some years, Mary returned to America and but later she was able to settle in France once more with her family, including her beloved sister who was in poor health. A blunt woman, Cassatt was welcomed by the newly banded impressionists whom one critic thought were such bad painters that they were “afflicted with some hitherto unknown disease of the eye.” Cassatt did not think so. She wrote, “We are carrying on a despairing fight and need all our forces.” Encountering Degas, she knew she had found her light.

More to come about this remarkable artist in further posts!

Monday, October 12, 2009

studio in the rue de la Condamine

One afternoon when many of his artist friends were visiting, the congenial painter Frédéric Bazille took up his brush and made a fast portrait of all of them. Experts differ on the identity of some of them, but Edouard Manet is before the easel and the men on and below the open stair may be Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir. When the painting was nearly done, impetuous Manet snatched the brush and pushed Bazille into place to paint him into his own picture...a bit too tall. Bazille's good friend Edmond plays the corner spinet to entertain them all. It would not be until four years later that the painters would have their first independent exhibition and be called impressionists.

Thoughts from Degas at age 39

from a letter written on his trip to New Orleans
"How much I want to tell you about my art! If I could have another twenty years' time to work, I could produce things that would endure. Am I to end up like that [paintings he did not like], after racking my brains like somebody possessed, and after having experienced so many ways of seeing and doing?" Degas had begun his ballet paintings five years before the writing of this letter.

This quote is from the marvelous book "The Impressionists at First Hand" by Bernard Denvir.Some people do not consider Degas really an impressionist.

lovely and gifted Berthe Morisot

Here is a portrait of the lovely young artist as seen by her colleague Edouard Manet (who was rather in love with her). Born into a good Parisian family in 1841, she and her sister Edma showed a much stronger gift for painting than the usual well-bred girls of their age who would make pretty watercolors and tuck them in an album to show visitors. Art was her joy and torment, for she never felt she was good enough though her work was warmly welcomed by her fellows Pissarro, Renoir, Monet and others for display in the first impressionists' exhibition. The critics and some of the public, however, were scandalized by the exhibition's paintings which they called merely sketches; one man even shouted that modest Berthe was a whore. Pissarro promptly punched him in the face.

Much more to come on her exquisite work!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

new van Gogh novel SUNFLOWERS

October 13th 2009 sees the publication of a new van Gogh novel by Sheramy Bundrick. Publishers' Weekly wrote: "A knockout debut impressive volume of suspense, delight, and heartbreak" and novelist Susan Vreeland praised it as "Lays bare in rich, compelling scenes the mystery of the turbulent and misunderstood final two years in van Gogh’s life." A wonderful portrait of van Gogh!

Claude's love for Camille

Camille was eighteen when she met him and only thirty-two when she died; she left her good home to live with him and her parents disowned her. She was charming and a clever amateur actress and I think that their good friend, the struggling painter Renoir, had a particular tenderness for her for he painted her often and she almost always smiled for him with a special sweetness.(Who could not like Renoir?) Claude adored her and was devastated when she died. Here he painted her with a dog. What did he say to her as he painted? "Stay still just twenty minutes more, then we'll go out someplace cheap for dinner and wine and then, dearest, when we come home...." We try to hear the murmurs of the young lovers in a hidden room in Paris in 1866.

gentle Pissarro

This painting is "The Stage Coach at Louveciennes - 1870"

I have a great love for Camille Pissarro whose paintings of rural French life make me deeply happy; if possible, I would walk inside one. He was born in 1830 and died in 1903. I find his use of color particularly beautiful. He did not have Claude Monet's gift for putting himself forward nor Renoir's for portraiture, and so he remained fairly poor all his life. His paintings are worth millions now but towards the end of his life he sometimes did not have the train fare to go to Paris to try to sell his work. His collected "Letters to His Son Lucien" are remarkable and his portraits of his several children very tender. When he began to paint, the great Corot stood up for him; in later years he mentored Cézanne and Gauguin. Cézanne said, "Pissarro was a father to me...something like the good Lord.”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Did the impressionists make good husbands?

Many people think of artists as promiscuous and it is true a few of the impressionists had a roving eye. When Manet's wife caught him following another woman, he excused himself, saying,"But I thought it was you, dear!" However, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, and Renoir were very devoted to their wives and depended on them very much. Monet never painted anyone as much as he did his first wife Camille; Renoir married a seamstress in his 40s and adored her, and Pissarro married his mother's maid Julie. As for the famous women artists, Cassatt did not marry and Morisot married Manet's brother Eugene....a real story there! The painting shown is of Sisley and his wife by their good friend Renoir.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The first oil paint tubes made impressionism

In 1841, when the very young Claude Monet had just celebrated his first birthday, the American artist John Rand patented the first collapsible metal tube for artist’s oil paint. Before that happy invention, artists had to grind their colors and mix them with oil and thinner and, if an artist wanted to work outdoors, he had to carefully pack his prepared paint in breakable glass vials or leaky animal bladders. By the time Claude was seventeen and beginning to paint, he was likely spending a lot of his money on those tubes. His good friend Renoir declared years later, “Without paint in tubes, there would be no impressionism.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monet's bad design for wallpaper....

The first exhibition of the impressionists met with much negative criticism when it opened in 1874. Art critic Louis Leroy called his review "The Exhibition of the Impressionists", thus giving them their name. Of the famous Impression: Sunrise, Leroy wrote that "wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape."

Oddly today on the web one can find Monet's great painting as....wallpaper! But the price is slightly lower than the original hanging in the Musée Marmotton, Paris. I wonder if Leroy would still claim his opinion was right? We must be grateful to the silly man for naming this beloved school of painting, anyway!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

when Auguste Renoir was young...

Auguste Renoir was a tailor's son and, as a boy, slept on his father's workbench -- the low wood platform on which the father sat crosslegged each day and sewed. Unfortunately for Auguste, his father often left stray pins there...ouch! For a while as a teenager he had work hand-painting pieces of china, but one day a visiting artist informed the family that Auguste must become a real painter. The family burst into tears, knowing that would condemn their son to poverty. On the other hand, as a boy he had a beautiful singing voice and his choirmaster, the composer Gounod ("Faust" etc.), hoped Auguste would become an operatic tenor. Ah, the turns of fate! We might today hear stories of the legendary tenor Renoir as Faust instead of the sweet, gifted painter he became! Did he sing when he painted?

Friday, September 25, 2009

my novel CLAUDE AND CAMILLE and the real Camille

I do not know the names of these two lovely young models but they capture how much in love the 25-year-old Claude was with his 18-year-old, upper-class model Camille who threw away her secure life to be with him.

I shall be posting as much as I can about the real Camille in the weeks to come. Sadly, all letters to and from her have been lost. No one back in the mid 1860s knew that he would be more than a haughty artist or she more than just another lovely girl come to Paris to find a life.

Claude Monet's starving artist years

Everybody knows the picture of the old white-bearded man, well fed, showing visitors his Japanese bridge and water lilies, his vast studio and his plentiful table. But the young Claude personifies the starving artist. For months at a time, he and his good friend Renoir lived on a large sack of beans and made quick chalk sketches of the neighbors to pay the rent. More than once the young Claude was physically thrown out of his cheap rooms, once slashing his canvases before he ran out the door (to think of it!) and another time tossed out stark naked in the middle of the night. It was a long road to Giverny!

Here's our Claude age 25 -- wondering if anyone would ever want his work or if he could afford a flower pot, much less a garden!