Monday, October 31, 2011

the almost truthful letters a young Impressionist sent home

One of the frequent reports of life among the young painters who would be one day called the Impressionists are the letters sent home to his mother and father by Monet's best friend, the painter Jean Frédéric Bazille. Bazille came from a well-to-do family in Montpellier and moved to Paris to study medicine. After telling his family repeatedly that his medical exams were once more postponed, he confessed all he wanted to do was paint! (It was a big distraction to study anatomy when Renoir and Monet and Manet and Pissarro were in the other room of the studio talking painting!) From his letters we learn something of the joyous life of these young men, and Bazille's constant avoidance of his parents' attempts to marry him off. He was a very good person and rushed off to fight for France in the Franco-Prussian wars to a disastrous outcome.

This self-portrait from the Chicago Art Institute is rather strange; he was only about 24 or 25, and painted himself at least fifteen years older. Or perhaps it is the tension of staring at himself in the mirror or some discomfort about himself which made him paint that way. Various paintings and photos of him show him as dashingly handsome, humble while painting at his easel, and very much the formidable son of a great family in still another. The first drafts of my novel CLAUDE & CAMILLE featured Bazille as the main character; he later moved to third major character. I have many books about him, perhaps all that have been published in English and a few in French.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reading about Pissarro's family

I arrived at the Clark Museum to speak about my novel the week after they took down their exquisite exhibit Pissarro's People, but I did get a copy of the excellent exhibition book. I was particularly struck at how much he loved his children and with what an atmosphere of unconditional love he raised them. He lost three of them before his own death; Jeanne, called Minette (shown right), died when she was nine. There are many portraits of her, from an enchanting little girl to a somber and sickly one. I don't know how she died or if any record is left. It was devastating for Pissarro and his wife.

The exhibition book is a fine portrait of the man as well as the painter...this most tender, humble painter! I would have loved to have known him.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Monet and storms at sea

The painter Turner, it is said, had himself tied to a mast to observe the violence of a storm at sea. Monet had his own near disaster. Standing on a rock to paint and very involved, he was suddenly swept into the churning sea by a wave. He was a Normandy man and a strong swimmer but his canvases and palette and paints rushed about him in the water. He climbed to safety with a beard tinged with colorful oil paint; one could say that that day Monet was himself a Monet. As today we are waiting for the hurricane to approach New York City, I felt inspired to post one of his paintings of storms! He did not do as many as Turner, though!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Clark Museum in Williamstown Mass. is hosting a Pissarro exhibition through October 2nd...and sadly I won't see it, because I am not speaking there on my Monet novel until October 9th. I love Pissarro with all my heart! If someone does go, please do leave a comment here. Here is the url for the museum: CLARK MUSEUM. And let me once more recommend Pissarro's Letters to his Son Lucien.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

a new documentary on Monet: MONET'S PALATE

I am always surprised and delighted at how many things one can discover on the web, and the other day I came across a Facebook page for this documentary about Monet's food and gardens and paintings, featuring many great chefs with an introduction by Meryl Streep herself. MONET's PALATE, shot entirely in Paris, London and Giverny, includes exclusive footage of Monet's home in Normandy where he lived for over 40 years, including shots of the dining room where he entertained guests such as Marcel Proust and Paul Cezanne. The documentary also features Monet's paintings on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a select group of world famous chefs like Daniel Boulud, Alice Waters, Michel Richard and Roger Vergé prepare Monet's favorite meals.

Also see Monet's Palate (the general website) for all sorts of wonderful things about the movie, the meals, the creators of the film.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Did Alice really destroy all of Camille's letters? A 19th century soap opera!

A recent article in the Guardian has declared that Monet's second wife, Alice, destroyed all of the personal papers of Monet's first wife and muse, the lovely Camille, who died at the age of 32 from cancer. The whole situation of Monet's relationship with Alice Hoschede, his patron's wife, is shrouded in mystery to this day, I told the story as I believed it in CLAUDE & CAMILLE, and yet it was strange even to the Parisians of the day. When Alice's wealthy husband became bankrupt, Monet took Alice and her six children to live with him in his drafty house forty miles from Paris. Some people say he was already her lover, but it would be strange for Alice cared for the dying Camille, even arranging a Catholic wedding for Claude and Camille a few days before she died. Was this then the woman who supposed destroyed poor Camille's personal papers? If so she was a complicated woman indeed! She left diaries but they are unpublished. I would love to read them. Book clubs often ask me how much of the novel is true. How can you look into the complicated heart of anyone, and be clear about what they did in private more than 130 years ago? Or maybe when Alice and Claude moved in haste to Giverny, they left Camille's papers behind along with many unpaid bills...

The picture of Alice is by Carulus-Duran who also painted Claude Monet when they were both students; it was painted when Alice was still a wealthy woman in her chateau, never dreamingof falling in love with a painter who would remove her to the remote town of Giverny.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Happy 170th birthday, dearest Renoir!

Auguste Renoir would have been 170 years old this coming February 25th, having been born in 1841. His father was a tailor and as a boy he slept on the tailor's bench, sometimes being stuck by the odd dropped pin; at thirteen he went to work in a workshop, painting floral designs on plates. (Oh, in what dusty Paris antique shop can we find an unsigned plate from about 1854 painted by the hand of the young Renoir?)

I am struck always by his loving and sweet nature, much like his paintings. He said, “The work of art must seize upon you, wrap you up in itself and carry you away. It is the means by which the artist conveys his passion. It is the current which he puts forth, which sweeps you along in his passion.”

He also said, "I need to feel the excitement of life stirring around me, and I will always need to feel that" and then, "Why shouldn't art be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world!"

Happy birthday to this tender, gifted impressionist! He is one of Claude Monet's best friends in my novel CLAUDE & CAMILLE and the hero of Susan Vreeland's LUNCHEON OF THE BOATING PARTY.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Berthe Morisot's teacher, "Papa" Corot

Corot taught the young Berthe Morisot and in the 1860s introduced her to plein air painting. I have always loved his work, and indeed he greatly influenced the young Berthe's style. He was by that time well into his sixties, a generous man with a mane of gray hair who willingly lent his pupils some of his paintings to take home and copy. Berthe's mother coaxed him into the social circle at her house; he was a shy bachelor and unwilling to come until Madame Morisot agreed to let him smoke his pipe during dessert. They called him "Papa" Corot.

Corot stood strongly behind the young Monet and Pissarro as well. The photograph of him shown was taken by Nadar, who lent his old photography studio at 35 boulevard des Capucines for the first Exhibition of Impressionism in 1874. Corot did not take part in the Exhibition though he had influenced and taught many of its painters.

Monet's Christmas lunch

Almost everyone who has journeyed to the master's house in Giverny comes away with a vision not only of the flower gardens but the glorious yellow dining room. We imagine ourselves invited to eat there with the master. Dinner was punctual; Monet would have been up tramping fields to paint since before dawn and was very hungry. He was also very particular. Asparagus was hardly cooked; he covered his salad and much else with almost spoonfuls of black pepper.

In Claire Joyes' fascinating book, Monet's Table, I found some enticing details about Christmas dinner at Giverny. It was served at midday and the dining room was bedecked with garlands of leaves and flowers while table bowls held clusters of Christmas roses and jasmine. Children would find little gray envelopes lined with rose madder at their places containing money from Monet and his wife. There were also mysterious little packets of sweets and small gifts such as pins, medallions and pocket watches. The large presents were waiting under the tree in the dining room.

The meal began with eggs scrambled with truffles or monkfish. Strasbourg truffled foie gras in pastry was served before the truffled, stuffed capon...etc. etc. Lastly there was a lit Christmas pudding and banana ice cream. And to think Monet lived on a sack of beans for a few months in his mid twenties while sharing a studio with Renoir. And they were not truffled beans, I am sure!

(I searched in vain for a Christmas post for this blog and found one two weeks late but here it is! Do get a copy of the book and cook some of the many recipes at the back of it!)