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Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet Hardcover – April 6, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Behind every great artist stands a woman driving him to inspiration, aspiration, and desperation, according to Cowell (Marrying Mozart), who bases her latest novel about an artist and his muse on the life of Claude Monet. Beautiful bourgeoise Camille Doncieux leaves her family and fiancé for Monet, whom Cowell depicts early on as a rebellious young man trying to capture in his paintings fleeting moments of color and light before he matures into the troubled genius whose talent exceeds his income. In an art world resistant to change, Camille remains Monet's great love as he and fellow unknowns Renoir, Pissarro, and Bazille struggle to make ends meet, but, eventually, parenthood, financial pressure, long separations, career frustrations, and romantic distractions take their toll, and even after Monet finally achieves commercial success, the couple still faces considerable difficulty. While glimpses of great men at work make absorbing reading, it's Camille who gives this story its heart. A convincing narrative about how masterpieces are created and a detailed portrait of a complex couple, Cowell's novel suggests that a fabulous, if flawed, love is the source of both the beauty and sadness of Monet's art. (Apr.)
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When art student Claude Monet glimpses a fetching girl at the train station en route to Paris, it is, as they say, love at first sight. When he tracks Camille Doncieux down months later and convinces her to become his model, it is an embarrassment of riches. The two become lovers, but because starving artists have always been deemed poor husband material, Camille’s family mightily objects to the affair, just as Monet’s father vehemently opposes his son’s career. The couple finds solace in the company of Monet’s fellow aspiring painters: Renoir, Pissaro, and Bazille chief among them. While commercial and critical success elude him, Monet’s love for Camille eventually succumbs to the forces of physical and financial ruin. The connection between artist and muse potentially offers a rich trove for authors, and Cowell mines the tempestuous relationship of Monet and his romantic and artistic inspiration with a nimble and discerning command as she indelibly evokes the lush demimonde of nineteenth-century Paris. --Carol Haggas
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Top Customer Reviews
Most of the book takes place in Monet's younger years, when he is still experimenting with his art and creating a fellowship with other like-minded artists that haven't yet become impressionists. We suffer with them through years of poverty and frustration; it seems that our perception of their solidarity 100+ years later is more wishful thinking than actuality. Their struggle just to survive was fraught with disappointment; they can barely scrape together enough money to host their own art shows that mostly garner public indifference. In their early hopeful years they support each other and share the occasional bounty, but as they get older their fractured lives seem to intersect less and less frequently. The Franco-Prussian war shatters their lives as it shatters Paris.
It is in this environment that Monet falls in love with Camille, who abandons her upscale lifestyle and family for the impoverished but hopeful artist. It struck me that they might have been better off had they gone their separate ways, but love doesn't always follow common sense. It seems that they are rarely quite comfortable with their choices and indeed, both try to flee in their own way. But they keep coming back together and I found myself grieving for them as things went from bad to worse.
I kept waiting for Monet to reach a level of comfortable respectability, but alas, the more lucrative years are outside the scope of this story. Or did it ever happen for him? Even in his later years, as he prepares his water lilies for a successful exhibition, we capture a hint that he was never really happy, and perhaps that's the saddest part of all.