A good read about love and art

By Donna Bruno
Posted 1/18/23

‘Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet’

By Stephanie Cowell

If you favor Impressionist art and a good love story, you will like this book about French painter Claude Monet and the …

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A good read about love and art

Posted

‘Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet’

By Stephanie Cowell

If you favor Impressionist art and a good love story, you will like this book about French painter Claude Monet and the love of his life, Camille Doncieux, who also served as his primary model. He once said, “When I’ve painted a woman’s bottom so that I want to touch it, then the painting is finished,” and that bottom was usually Camille’s.

They met in Paris after Monet left his hometown reluctant to take over his father’s nautical supply business in which he had no interest. From that point on the father-son relationship was contentious.

In Pigalle, the district to which artists flocked, he met Renoir, Pissarro, Cezanne, Manet, and Frederic Bazille, who became his most supportive friend. In taking up with Monet, Camille abandoned a comfortable lifestyle to become the lover of a penniless artist, who like his friends, met rejection of his work.

Their painting style became known as “Impressionism,” a derogatory term for their vibrant brushstrokes of pure color, their emphasis on changing light, their choice to paint en plein air, and their drastic departure from the style of the Old Masters.

With Monet, Camille had to forego the luxuries to which she had been been accustomed – pretty dresses and hats, the theater, even food – as life with him was a constant struggle, including frequent ejection for non-payment of rent.

However, she was besotted with him, passionately in love, as was he. His debts were constant, creditors pressing, even unable to purchase paints and canvasses, unable to sell his finished products.

Both she and he borrowed from their parents, a humiliating situation. His best friend Bazille often lent him money, and Camille worked in her uncle’s book shop to make ends meet.

When Prussia invaded France, the situation became even worse – people starving, eating rats – but they had moved, once again, this time with their new son, to the countryside to avoid Claude’s conscription in the French army.

Bazille was killed in battle, but not before Monet learned of his friend’s affair with Camille when Claude had abandoned her to go traipsing in search of subjects, landscapes to paint. For the rest of his life, he regretted a bitter fight with Bazille before he went off to battle.

After years of struggle, Claude began to sell some of his work and was able to provide a stable home for his family. Part of his new income was derived from a commission offered by wealthy Ernest Hoschede`.

While painting at Ernest’s estate for an extended period, Claude had an affair with Alice Hoschede` but always returned to Camille. In a drastic turn of circumstances, the entire Hoschede` family became boarders with Claude and Camille when Ernest lost all his money. Alice’s youngest child may also have been fathered by Claude.

When Camille became ill with uterine cancer, it was Alice who cared for her and the eight children in the household. Despite his infidelity, Claude was devastated by Camille’s death and so regretted that he had not been able to provide for her until the last two years. Their life together had been one of daily hardship and deprivation, but she had never deserted him despite being left alone for months at a time.

Eventually he married Alice and built the home and lush gardens of Giverny, which he painted repeatedly in his later years. Today the locale with its water-lily ponds is visited by thousands each year.

This novel about Claude and Camille is replete with tempestuous emotion, uninhibited passion, crushing disappointment, heartbreaking betrayal, haunting loss and tragedy. It is always amazing to me that the gorgeous, sensuous, vibrant paintings that these Impressionists created were not well-received, even realizing that anything new is often suspect and not readily accepted.

Since I am dazzled by their beauty and workmanship, it saddens me that the painters rarely realized success or received the adulation they deserved. Today, the same works for which they could not find a market, sell for millions and are appreciated for the masterpieces that they always were.

Donna Bruno is a prizewinning author and poet recently recognized with four awards by National League of American Pen Women.

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