An Impressionist Bonanza

Fresh back from a trip to Paris, A Reader's Respite was a little drooly over the new Stephanie Cowell novel, Claude and Camille: A Novel of Claude Monet.

We love, love, love the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.  No where else in the world can you find such a smorgasbord of Impressionist art...Monet, Manet, Degas,'s enough to make an art lover swoon.

Woman in a Green Dress by Monet (1866)

Claude and Camille is the story of Claude Monet and his love, his wife and his muse Camille Doncieux.  If you are at all familiar with any of Monet's work, then you probably have seen Camille.  She was his model for countless works, even appearing several times in one painting.

Camille was the model for each person (even the man) appearing in Women in the Garden (1866)

Author Cowell made a good choice for a historical fiction novel, for while there is information to be had about Camille, the information is fleeting and conflicting, leaving much room for author interpretation.  She does a very nice job of portraying Monet's early life and career as a struggling artist, indeed the financial struggles of all of Monet's friends and fellow artists are well conveyed.

Camille, as painted by Renoir

The mysterious relationship between Monet and Camille, however, fell a bit short for us.  While the mechanics of their marriage were competently covered, we never really felt any motivation for their grand passion.  For example, when Camille falls into bed with Monet, we were left wondering why.  Why would a young girl from a privileged background in the late 1800's throw it all away for a starving artist?  She must have been overwhelmed by passion for him, but it was this passion that never quite appears on the pages.

Camille Monet at Her Tapestry Loom, by Monet (1875)

Likewise, Monet's passion for Camille is never quite explained.  They married in 1870 and had two children before Camille died in 1879 at the young age of 32.  Their marriage wasn't made in heaven, however.  Monet left Camille for long stretches of time and it's been supposed that he conducted an affair with the woman who would later become his second wife during the illness that led to Camille's death.

Again, while these events are covered in the novel, it was difficult to discern character motivation.  Monet was, by all accounts, devastated by Camille's death and even painted her on her deathbed.

Camille Monet on Her Deathbed, by Monet (1879)

All in all, the novel is worth reading for the look at the beginnings of what would become one of the most famous and influential art movements in history:  The Impressionists.  Even though we felt it was lacking in some areas, there's no doubt that reading this novel will certainly enhance your appreciation for Impressionist art.

Again, Mr. FTC Man, A Reader's Respite is hiding behind the machine that is Amazon:  this book was a part of the Vine Program.

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