Saturday, November 27, 2010

Van Gogh is a fascinating subject for novelists!

The Van Gogh novels I have read so far are:

LUST FOR LIFE by Irving Stone (1934) which portrays his whole artistic life until his death at 37;
SUNFLOWERS by Sheramy Bundrick (2009), the last few months of his life from the point of view of a prostitute who loved him
THE LAST VAN GOGH by Alison Richman, his doctor's daughter's love for him in the last months of his life;
JOANNA by Clare Cooperstein (1995), about his brother Theo's wife and how she saw the artist;
and LEAVING VAN GOGH by Carol Wallace (2011), his last months from the point of view of his holistic doctor Dr. Gachet

The man is endlessly fascinating! If there are other novels about him, please leave a comment.

where the rejected Parisian painters went in 1863

Oh the scandal! In 1863 Napoleon III instituted a Salon des Refusés where the painters who had been refused a place in the regular annual Salon could hang their work. Taking advantage of this was the young Edouard Manet with his now famous painting Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. The critic Théophile Burger wrote, "I fail to see what could have induced a distinguished and intelligent artist to adopt such an absurd composition."

At the date of this exhibition, Claude Monet was a handsome, dark-haired 23-year-old young recruit in the French army training grounds in Algiers...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Renoir paints Wagner - from the boating party luncheon to Parsifal

It is rather odd for me to think of Renoir loving Wagner's music though other people may think differently! Renoir was about 42 when he traveled to Palermo to paint the composer who was there finishing Parsifal. Renoir had a rough time. First he could not find Wagner and then he met a young man in Wagner's household who told him the composer was in a state of nerves about finishing his opera (who wouldn't be?) and couldn't be disturbed. After a day or so Renoir did meet the Master who showed up in a velvet dressing gown with wide sleeves lined with satin. In the end the great composer gave the great artist 35 minutes to sketch him! Renoir returned to Paris and made his painting. Wagner was disappointed that Renoir was not Ingres!

Only the year before, the congenial Renoir had painted his delightful Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New book on Monet's Camille published!

Finally! MONET AND HIS MUSE: CAMILLE MONET IN THE ARTIST's LIFE is available on Amazon. I have been waiting a long time for this critical study by esteemed clinical psychologist and art historian Mary Mathews Gedo. When I began to write my novel I wrote to the foremost American scholar on Monet and I asked, "What can you tell me about Camille?" and he said, "Very little." I am so excited to read this!

From the publisher's description: "And then—Camille. Entering Monet’s life when he was still a young man, becoming first his model and then mistress and then—finally—his wife, Camille Doncieux always fulfilled the function of muse, even after her life had ended, as Monet not only painted her one last time on her deathbed, but preserved her memory through the gardens he planted at his home in Giverny." That was just how I saw it as I wrote, with only scraps of diaries and his portraits of her and a few mentions in their friends' letters to guide me.

Amazon link for the scholarly book is above and here is the link to my novel CLAUDE & CAMILLE: A NOVEL OF MONET for a fictional treatment of this long-lost muse.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Berthe Morisot's last letter to her daughter Julie

The beautiful and exquisitely talented Berthe Morisot had already been widowed for some time and was raising her only daughter Julie with the help of friends. Julie was only seventeen when her mother, fatally ill with pneumonia, left her this last heart-rending letter:

"My little Julie, I love you as I die. I will still love you even when I am dead...I had hoped to live until you were married. Work and be good as you have always been; you have not caused me one sorrow in your little life. Do not cry; I love you more than I can tell you...."

115 years after it was written, the love of the great artist for her only child moves me very deeply.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Such very good friends! -- life among the impressionists

Here is the young Renoir curled up in a chair in his good pal Frederic Bazille's studio. One of the reasons I was compelled to write Claude and Camille: a novel of Monet was my fascination for the friendship among these then utterly unknown artists, particularly in the 1860s and 1870s when Monet had likely never heard of a water lily; he was fortunate to have a humble potted plant in the rooms he lived in! The young impressionists (who had never heard the word impressionists then either) slept on each others floors, painted the same model side by side, scrounged paint and scraped down canvases and shared dreams. It is interesting to me that often a creative person rises in a creative group. A fascinating nonfiction book is the Private Lives of the Impressionists. And a tender novel about Renoir which I recommended some months ago is Susan Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party. Both capture the unique friendship of these talented men and women.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

the personal things Renoir left behind

I am only allowed in this generous blogspot to post in one image per each blog. I did find a treasure trove of personal things Renoir left behind listed in Hantmann's Auctioneers and appraisers. I chose the wedding certificate to his beloved Aline and then found so many other things on the site that you can go look for yourself and perhaps put a nice bid on Aline's beautiful fringed kimono. I coveted Renoir's spectacles. I wonder what strength they were?

I have a strong affinity as a historical novelist to touch objects worn by those figures I so love. I think it would be wonderful to see Monet's bedroom slippers. I have to look on line!

Here is the Hantmann's link if you wish to go shopping among the misc. things left by the impressionists. Would anyone have Manet's famous opera hat and cane?

Eugene Boudin, Monet's first teacher

I think I may have posted something about this fine man and artist here before, but a Twitter friend directed me to a NPR site with this photo and I wanted to share it. If I might quote from the story:

Boudin didn't start out to be a painter. His father ran a ferryboat between Honfleur and Le Havre, the big English Channel port, and Boudin worked on the boat as a child. "And one day he fell overboard and was caught by one seaman," says Bridget Mueller, who guides visitors around Normandy. "Otherwise he would have drowned — so his mother said, 'You're not going on this ship again.' "

Instead, young Eugene went to school. A teacher spotted artistic talent, and from then on, Boudin went to sea via the canvases he painted. Mueller says there's hidden proof of the artist's seamanship: a notation on the back of every painting, recording the weather and the winds on the day it was made.

It was Boudin who challenged the 17-year-old arrogant Claude Monet to try landscape painting and the rest is history. Claude never looked back. Even in his old age, he referred to Boudin as "my master." The whole story can be found at

Friday, June 11, 2010

the later years of Claude Monet

I went down to the Gagosian Gallery in New York City which is exhibiting a rare and stunning collection of late Monet paintings through June 26th. If you are in the area, please go down and see it. I went with a few friends, one who is a painter, and we spent at least an hour in the several rooms. The painting I show here from 1906 is bucolic but most of the paintings around 1914-1919 are not. How could they be? The artist's eyesight was failing him; he had lived through the ravages of World War I in which his sons and the sons of his good friend Renoir had fought. Death had taken his beloved second wife Alice and his older son Jean as well as his beautiful stepdaughter Susanne whose portrait on a hill is the cover for my novel CLAUDE & CAMILLE. The old friends he had loved had died or were far from him and his work, which has seemed so radical in 1865, was now old style. More and more he stayed within his house and gardens, finding contentment there. And still he did not "cease from exploration" as T.S. Eliot writes.

Do go if you are in the New York City area. Several pictures are from private collections and may not be easily seen again. I hope to go again myself before it closes.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My intense love for Monet's best friend Frédéric

On visiting the Metropolitan Museum exhibition The Origins of Impressionism fifteen years ago (which was the original inspiration of my novel Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet), I must confess that the painting I fell in love with was an early Monet but the painter I felt I had to know was Frédéric Bazille, the tall medical student from Montpellier who had to paint, who was brilliant, charming, the best of friends and rather self-effacing. He came from a wealthy family and when his friends Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, and Claude Monet needed a place to paint or sleep, he gave away every corner of his floor. In one letter when away from the studio he wrote Renoir to search Frédéric's bedroom drawer for Frédéric's pocket watch and pawn it.

We have a great many of the letters he wrote home to his parents whose financial support he needed through his 20s as he made nothing from his art and after what was obviously evasions and lies (how many time could he tell his parents that his medical exams were yet again postponed which was why he hadn't exactly passed them!), he fell happily into a full time life in the arts. He was an excellent amateur actor and playwright, a passionate classical pianist, and the world's best friend. He did not live very long and the others mourned him forever. For a time he was the main character in my novel until Monet took over and then Camille.

This photograph was taken when he was about 24 years old; at that time he was modeling for Monet as a favor and painting at his side, but his style was really not impressionism. It was a gorgeous style just his own and he had hardly begun to develop it when his years were ended. I felt from the first time I saw his picture that I loved him.

Friday, April 9, 2010


There were five major women in Monet's gardens: his mother, Camille, Alice, Suzanne and Blanche. Read about them in my blog at Linus's Blanket and how they influenced him.

Friday, April 2, 2010

more on Manet's elusive model Victorine Meurent

Who were the models for the impressionists? Often a mistress or a wife or a step-daughter (Monet had four), someone you did not have to pay by the hour. Young and pretty girls got the highest fees. In the 1860s when the impressionists were mostly still in their 20s, all you had to do was wander over to the Pigalle fountain and find a model for they collected there.

There are many fascinating things about Victorine. Manet first saw her walking in the street carrying her guitar. She taught violin and guitar, sang in café-concerts, and painted. She was obviously intelligent and made her way the best as she could in a world where unprotected women had a hard time financially. She went her own way artistically and in 1876 one of her paintings was accepted by the prestigious state Salon while Manet’s was rejected. She continued to model, even for Toulouse-Lautrec. When Manet died, she wrote a polite letter to Manet’s widow, saying that the painter had promised to remember her in his will. As far as we know, Madame Manet did not answer.

All but one of Victorine’s own paintings has been lost. I think she must have been a fascinating woman who went her own way. She is the subject of two novels: A Woman with No Clothes On and Mademoiselle Victorine.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Monet's blue angel and stepdaughter

Blanche Monet was an adolescent when she and her five siblings moved into Monet's drafty house in Vétheuil, accompanying her married mother Alice who was then falling in love with the highly masculine painter. Almost at once the young Blanche was following Monet to paint and was soon painting on her own in a style much like the man who became her stepfather.

Not only was the caring Blanche a stepdaughter, but when she grew up she became daughter-in-law as well to Monet, marrying his chemist son Jean. When Jean died far too young, Blanche moved to Giverny to care for Monet in his old age. In those years she did not paint herself. She resumed her art after her stepfather's death and had a few solo exhibitions of her delicate paintings. When the bombs of World War II fell, Blanche wrote to Count Metternich asking him to protect the house and an official notice was tacked to the door, saying, "This is Monet's house. Forbidden to the forces of occupation."

If Blanche had not cared so intensely for the old Claude Monet, he might never have completed his great panels which hang in the Orangerie today. Thus the Prime Minister George Clemenceau dubbed her "The Blue Angel."

The picture is by Monet and shows Blanche and her sister as young girls; Blanche, of course, is absorbed in painting.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Berthe Morisot, the chaperoned young painter

Not for the well-bred Berthe Morisot was the vigorous, bohemian life of the Café Guerbois where painters such as Monet, Manet, Renoir and Cézanne (all male, please note) gathered around a table to argue art and technique. Berthe would not have been allowed anywhere near those joyful meetings; she was a woman and of good family.

The daughter of a rising civil servant, Berthe lived in two worlds: her painting with which she was never satisfied and the
suitable dinners and salons where her socially ambitious mother made certain that her three beautiful unmarried daughters were introduced to eligible men. So no cafe life for Berthe, no learning how to draw a figure in a drafty, dusty art class. Either her mother accompanied her and her gifted sister Edma to copy paintings at the Louvre or for art lessons with the genial, elderly Corot, or she and her sister went modestly together, chaperoning each other. A young woman could not go anywhere alone; her reputation might be compromised. It was not done.

But the world of the men who would be known as the Impressionists opened to her anyway. Manet's mother, Madame Manet, was socially desirable. She held a weekly Salon and it was likely there that the beautiful Berthe encountered the red-haired dandy Manet and became his colleague and model. Who knows what else she felt? Certainly she was a complex young woman.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

a photograph of Claude Monet at just 20...

Well, here is our Claude at about the age of twenty, perhaps a little younger. To me he looks a little uncomfortable to find himself in a photographer's studio, a little uncertain as to how he will appear. He is delightfully handsome. If he was twenty, he had been experimenting with landscape painting for three years and accumulated a good portfolio of chalk sketches of boats. (A book called The Unknown Monet has a great number of these.)

Looking at this picture now, we know the end of the story: the vast gardens at Giverny, the six stepchildren and two sons, the great fame. Who was he then, not wanting to go into his father's grocery business but escaping to Paris to follow art? We know how his story concludes and that even now, eighty-four years after his death, his art, which no one wanted at that time, is some of the most beloved in the world. We know this...but to the young man in this picture, the future with all its difficulties and joys was utterly unknown.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sisley: a beloved, less famous Impressionist

Alfred Sisley is known today as one of the minor impressionists and how dear he is to me! He was born to an English couple living in Paris and painted alongside Renoir, Monet and their generous friend Bazille. One of the fortunate painters, he was supported by his father, but the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 brought down the family silk business, and Alfred — who was no salesman— struggled for income until his death at not yet sixty. Claude Monet promised to look after Sisley's children, and shortly after his friend's death, organized a sale of Sisley's paintings which brought a great deal of money though the late artist could get little enough for his work before! The gentle Sisley exhibited at the first Impressionists exhibition in 1874 and was never disillusioned with the movement. One critic wrote “.. in the small, hard-working and carefree group made up of Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, in Fontainebleau, he represents cheerfulness, spirit, imagination."

I love this description of this painting by art historian Debra N. Mancoff: “Flood at Port-Marly — with its nuanced, blue-gray palette — serves to illustrate Alfred Sisley's command of the heavy, moisture-laden atmosphere and the clear reflections on the high, trembling waters.”

A print of one of his paintings of a snowy rural path hung by my writing desk for a long time.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Claude's ravishing love Camille

Again, we have a portrait by Renoir who was their close family friend and often stayed with Claude and Camille in one of their brief periods of prosperity when they lived not in a few dingy rooms but in a proper house in the suburb of Argenteuil only a little outside Paris.

People called her "la volaille Monet" (Monet's bird) or "La Monette." According to a friend, everyone was charmed by her...except of course Claude's father who chose not to meet her as he was against his son's involvement with any woman until Claude's income was steadier. She was a ravishing creature, the friend said, full of kindness and grace. Surely though it was hard for her to never know if she would be have fine wines and lovely dresses one month and be facing water and the pawn shop the next!

I saw her as very complex. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the most complete study of her to date is by Ruth Butler in her book "Hidden in the Shadow of the Master." Another study will be published late summer: "Monet and His Muse: Camille Monet in the Artist's Life" by Mary Mathews Gedo. I feel Claude never got over her early loss and, in his own way, searched for her all his life. He kept a portrait of her in his bedroom until he died. We will see what Ms. Gedo says!

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!