Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 13, 2011

Stephanie Cowell reading Claude and Camille

I like reading novels with art settings and who doesn’t want to learn more about Paris during the Impressionist era? I happened to be reading Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell when Peter saw that she’d be giving a talk titled Searching for Monet last Sunday at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Museum as part of the Windows on the Past series.

It was great to hear her speak of sources of inspiration and ways she used letters – not many of Camille’s, who died young – and paintings, finding them a context. We got to see wonderful slides, like this one of Claude Monet’s painting of his first wife, Camille, when she was nineteen.


And here is Monet at twenty-five– perhaps as fetching as the more familiar photos we see of him in the Giverney gardens when he was in his eighties.

I especially enjoyed reading the beginning of Claude and Camille, when Monet, son of shopkeeper, began doing caricatures, then moved to Paris where Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Frederic Bazille, formed a supportive community for each other. In fact, Stephanie Cowell told us a painting that Bazille did of some of the friends was a big inspiration for her novel. As its title suggests, the book shows the ups and downs, pushes and pulls of a marriage, under the stresses of poverty and differences, though my favorite parts were about painting and a poignant piece of history glimpsed when Paris was cut off from the rest of the country during the war in 1870. I liked the framework she set with the water lilies, shown as a way that Monet looked back, perhaps trying to recreate the beauty of his young wife. She also structured time using some musical terms: she told us she’d been an opera singer for twenty years, and an early novel is Marrying Mozart. She even an old French ballad for us.

Peter took this photo of us when she signed a book.

Next I’ll be reading Stephanie’s blog, the Everyday Lives of French Impressionists with more book suggestions. Monet’s Table? Yum.  And I just picked up Light, by Eva Figes, which she recommended: a short novel about one day in Monet’s later years in the gardens.

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