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Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cézanne, Monet, and Rodin Hardcover – June 23, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Had they been literate, any of this book's three subjects-wives to the founders of French Impressionism-could have penned fascinating memoirs; as professor and author Butler (Rodin: The Shape of Genius) explains in her introduction, "we know almost nothing in a direct way from Hortense, Camille, or Rose," and that therefore her book "depends both on fact and imagination." Providing a sketch of their lives, Butler takes readers to Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, where the women lived on extremely limited means, married to men whose only true love was their art. Hortense Fiquet and Camille Doncieux, the wives of Cezanne and Monet respectively, modeled for some of the artists' most well-known paintings and bore their first children, yet receive little mention in most biographies. Rose Beuret is more well-known, but only because Rodin was slightly more open about their relationship. Beuret acted as Rodin's model and his assistant, and watched over a studio "full of sculpture" in his absence, "mostly works of clay needing constant attention." Looking beyond their work, Butler considers the human side of these artistic giants through the foggy lens of their most dedicated subjects.
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"This book is fascinating from start to finish. Butler has undertaken a daunting challenge in resurrecting the lives of three women who were virtually lost in the shadows of the men whose lives they shared, Cézanne, Monet, and Rodin. Her research opens doors into the problematic circumstances of women partnered with "genius."— June Hargrove, University of Maryland at College Park

(June Hargrove)

“Ruth Butler has produced an astonishing book about a virtually unknown story within this overly rehearsed moment in art history. This is a monumental achievement.”—Paul Tucker, author of The Impressionists at Argenteuil and Monet in the 20th Century
(Paul Tucker)

“With gracious writing and scholarly thoroughness, Butler engages in a very personal search for Hortense, Camille and Rose and brings the three model-wives out of their dense obscurity.”—Wayne Andersen, author of Manet: The Picnic and the Prostitute 
(Wayne Andersen)

"Ruth Butler has an important story to tell—one that transfixes, with its portraits of the sometimes sad and always straitened lives of three great artists' muses, and transports, with its vivid scenes of atelier life in Paris and beyond. This is a book full of promise, packed with new research, new ideas and striking images, and with a brilliant future."—Megan Marshall, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism
(Megan Marshall)

"Vividly brought to life. We come away with a fuller understanding of what it took to be a revolutionary painter or sculptor, and what it meant to be a woman, in late-19th-century France."—Ann Landi, ARTnews
(Ann Landi ARTnews 2008-09-01)

"Judicious, exhaustively researched, and gracefully written."—The Atlantic Monthly
(The Atlantic 2008-10-01)

"Masterfully researched. . . . As this book makes amply evident, these women's lives, no matter how difficult, painful, or uncertain, were never boring. Butler has shown that the silent muse is a compelling subject in her own right."—Kate Christensen, Wilson Quarterly
(Kate Christensen Wilson Quarterly 2008-09-01)

"Both art lovers and scholars will enjoy this heavily researched book. The narrative is suspenseful and sometimes even shocking. . . . Recommended."—Choice
(Choice 2008-12-01)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (June 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300126247
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300126242
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,133,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Ruth Butler has set herself an ambitious and commendable task in "Hidden in the Shadow of the Master," namely, to pluck from oblivion the histories of three women who shared the lives of three remarkable artists - Monet, Rodin, and Cezanne - sometimes happily and sometimes in utter misery. Butler asks good questions: Why have these women never figured in traditional biographies of these artists? Did they feel cast aside in their own time, as their husbands pursued extramarital affairs and devoted, almost always, more attention to matters of art than of family? Did their roles as the principle models for their husbands' figurative work constitute an important contribution to art history?

Unfortunately, Butler isn't really in much of a position to answer these questions. Researching the lives of obscure people is undoubtedly very difficult: to pull off her project successfully, Butler would have needed to get extremely lucky in uncovering previously unknown documents, like correspondence and diaries - as, for instance, Gail Levinson did in researching the life of Edward Hopper's wife, Jo, who is brought vividly and poignantly to life in Levinson's "Edward Hopper." Butler however has not hit upon many revelatory documents, and one tends to doubt that she tried very hard to find any. Ninety-five percent of the sources she cites are war-horses of the traditional history of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, which she creatively reinterprets to place the "model-wives" front and center. The result is a lot of rhetorical questions: "What must Madame Cezanne have felt like" in her difficult marital circumstances, etc.

The first sign of trouble comes in Butler's introduction where she says, "The story I tell depends both on fact and on imagination.
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Format: Hardcover
How do you write a nonfiction book about the lives of three women who were barely recognized in their own lifetimes? Hortense Fiquet, Camille Doncieux and Rose Beuret are not familiar historical names. Yet they were the wives of three of the most influential artists of the twentieth century: Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin.

Ruth Butler does a remarkable job of research and literary detective work to give personality and substance to these women who literally lived in the shadow of their husbands. For example, when Paul Cezanne met the woman he would marry is revealed in a letter he wrote to his sister. However, it is only through the birth certificate of their son born some three years later that we learn Hortense Fiquet's name; and she will not become Hortense Cezanne until 14 years later.

Similarly, Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux married some three years after their son was born, although their names appeared as husband and wife on Jean's birth certificate. For Auguste Rodin and Rose Beuret, their wedding did not take place until shortly before her death in 1917, though she was thought of as his wife almost from the beginning of their relationship in 1864.

All of these women began their relationships with these men as artists' models. In 1947 a discovery in some old boxes belonging to Monet indicates that Camille Doncieux had been his model for an unfinished painting much earlier than had been assumed. There are many paintings of Hortense Fiquet over many years. We find a somewhat different relationship with Rose Beuret and Auguste Rodin.
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Format: Hardcover
I agree with everything that reviewer Margaret Williams said. Ms. Butler constantly says things like, "We know nothing about Madame Monet's feelings at this point, but surely she must have felt..." or "one can imagine that she felt..." I think that this started out as an admirable project, but that after Butler started researching, she discovered there simply was no source material available on these women. So she repeats all the well-worn stuff about the artists, then tries to guess what the women in their lives must have felt. Sometimes she contradicts her own research -- emphasizing that one of these women adored her artist/lover and was "surely" happy with her lot, when other documentation which she quotes indicates otherwise. And some things are just downright silly. She claims, optimistically, that Camille Monet "loved posing" for her husband; how can she possibly know that? And to say that Camille made an important contribution to her husband's paintings just because she chose the outfits she posed in? Any art lover -- let alone an art history prof like Butler! -- knows that an artist will paint his sitters however he sees fit, regardless of what they actually look like or what they're wearing!
Another problem -- not necessarily the author's fault -- is that there aren't nearly enough illustrations. For every five artworks that Butler references, maybe one is reproduced -- and usually in a small black & white photo.
I, too, wonder why Yale published this. It's very telling, too, that the NY Times book review did not publish an actual review, but rather an interview with Ms. Butler -- presumably because an honest review would have revealed that there are serious problems with the book. Ms. Butler must have friends in high places who don't want to hurt her.
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