Thursday, January 28, 2010

two super blogs on Monet/Giverny

These are two evocative blogs on Monet and his enormous Giverny gardens (in whose original creation he hired many gardeners and conscripted his often grumpy kids and stepkids).

Monet, Giverny, and Normandy

and Giverny News
written poetically by a Giverny Guide. I read this almost every day in my struggling French when writing my novel Claude & Camille: a novel of Claude Monet (Crown, April 6th). link:

The photograph is of Monet's grave in Giverny which I found while there and stood for some minutes in awe before the mortal remains of the great and generous painter.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Renoir's amiable and plump wife

According to Renoir's biographer Georges Riviere in the book Renoir et ses amis, the artist at about 40 became immediately infatuated with the 19-year-old seamstress Aline Charigot when they met around 1880. To him, she was perfection and indeed she was very much a "Renoir" in figure, for she became more cheerfully plump as the years progressed, something which endears her to my heart, as I seem to be doing the same! Renoir doubted his gifts and profession in those days (six years after the first Impressionists exhibition the artists were still financially struggling) and she gave him confidence and stability.

Riviere wrote, "There were times when he would put down his palette and gaze at her instead of painting, asking himself why he tried, since what he was trying to achieve was there already." I like that!

I looked on line for a copy of Renoir et ses amis and there seemed to be none for under a few thousand dollars. I will search further; otherwise that purchase will have to wait a little.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Renoir, French operetta, and the diva's bosom

First I must mention that the impressionists, or many of them, were wild about the theater, ballet and opera -- there being no radio, television, or musical downloads at your desk in those days. Degas had his nearly 1500 pieces of art on ballerinas, Mary Cassatt drew women at the theater, but Renoir was absolutely crazy about theater and music (I had said in a previous post that the composer Gounod had the young Renoir in his choir when the artist was a boy). Renoir used to stop by the house of the great operetta composer Offenbach and they would walk over to the théâtre des Variétés together, where the reigning diva was Hortense Schneider.

Ms. Schneider, as you can see by this portrait, had an ample figure and Renoir was very fond of such womanly attributes. One evening before a performance he was in her dressing room with Manet's brother Edmond and the novelist Zola who both droned on and on about theme in painting. Renoir turned to the diva and said, "That's all well and good, but on to more serious things! How is your bosom these days?" (He liked bosoms even more than music.)

"What a question!" answered the diva with a smile, and she opened her dress and let him see for himself. The novelist turned bright red and fled but Manet's brother, who was also an artist, was delighted. Maybe the novelist was too and ran home to write about it...

I love gentle Renoir and I would have loved to hear Ms. Schneider, who sang the lead in many an operetta in those days in Paris!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cézanne's banker father and lemonade-loving wife

“My wife only cares for Switzerland and lemonade,” Paul Cézanne grumbled before separating from Hortense Fiquet Cézanne; the separation was a pity since their beginnings had been so passionate and clandestine. He was born in 1839 to a wealthy co-founder of a bank, a likely quizzical and stubborn man, whose portrait reading the newspaper painted by his son is one of my favorites. Monsieur Cézanne set Paul to enter the law, but the rebellious boy instead took off to Paris to study art. There, nobody in the art world could comprehend what on earth his painting was about.

At the age of 30 he met the bookseller Hortense and had a devil of a time hiding her from his father, who would of course have stopped his allowance. Poverty and secrecy wore on their relationship, though the young artist finally confessed to his father that he had a wife and son. But when Paul Cézanne’s father died the next year, leaving the artist a wealthy man, Hortense separated from him, leaving Paul to spend the rest of his life painting his beloved Provence mountain and apples and growing into the great artist we know today.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Letter from Pissarro on his eyesight written this day over a century ago

Camille Pissarro's Letters to his son Lucien are a great treasure. Opening to this date I read:

Paris, January 2, 1891
My dear Lucien,
I have a real problem now; my eye has swollen in this intense cold and threatens to abscess. I shall have to go see Dr. Parenteau, and to stop running around...Durand didn't want my small canvases simply because they were in my last style. He says that an artist should only have one style. [Durand was the art dealer who more than any other discovered impressionism and kept the wolf from the door for Monet and others]

Many of the impressionists suffered problems with their eyes. Pissarro suffered chronic infection of the tear sac in his right eye for the last 15 years of his life and had difficulty painting outside, particularly in winter. His late cityscapes were painted from behind a glass window. We know of course about Monet's terrible cataracts, and I will go into that and how it affected his work in a later blog; also the bad eye problems of Degas and Mary Cassatt.

This photograph is of Pissarro in his older years. I would give a great deal to know him, live in his village and greeting him in passing every morning. I do so love him!