CLAUDE & CAMILLE A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell will meet and exceed expectations for those who love the look and feel of an artist’s France. As with others that have walked in this historical art fiction space: Susan Vreeland, Tracy Chevalier, this feels like a must add to your collection. To be sure not to slant unfairly, I must offer this disclaimer before you go further, it is one of my favorite genres.
The Impressionists were determined group of artists that spun off from the acceptable painting styles of that time. Their goal, as they each bankrupted themselves and if they could family and friends, was to seek acknowledgment and recognition for their vision. And in turn, with that acceptance would hopefully carve out a living so that they might continue to paint while supporting their families and/or habits.
But as much as you share the frustrations of the Impressionists: Pissarro, Renoir and Bazille and others it is nonetheless a novel that captures Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux and their uncommon being as lovers, parents and finally husband and wife. Especially captivating was the life of privilege Camille turned her back on to be with her beloved.
Though Camille and Monet struggled and struggled, their love for each other was a beautiful story. The influence of their love in his works was most interesting and I had the opportunity to view some of those paintings after reading this novel which made them come to life.
The interaction between the artists was just as vital to this story in these pages. I had not realized the close and complicated relationship between the trio: Monet, Bazille and Camille. Nor did I realize how Bazille and his family took care of this band of Impressionists and without him we might not have seen these works that grace the halls of the greatest art museums in the world.
Monet has two loves in his years with Camille, painting and her. She finds this situation unbearable and try as she might she has to surrender to stay with the man who has her heart. Even when it seems they might have found some peace with a new commission for Monet with the wealthy Hoschedé family things become even more complicated as yet another with join their intimate circle.
As things progress Monet and Monsieur Hoschedé’s wife Alice develop forbidden feelings for each other. When Hoschedé’s find themselves bankrupt and Alice and her children with no place to go, they join Monet and Camille at their new home in Giverny. Camille contracts a disease that takes her life and Alice and Monet come together as they blend their families.
The read was not easy nor light as Cowell takes you inside of the struggles of Monet, the Impressionists, Camille and Monet, Camille and her family, war-torn Paris and the Hoschedé’s. Throughout the read I hoped for peace and happiness to prevail, but this was just not so. It might be the times, ideals or just the anguish of a creative genius.
In any case I would like to thank Stephanie Cowell for filling in the blanks in this novel that has created imagery I shall have for a lifetime. And, I would be remiss not to thank Monet for his perseverance and passion that resulted in a body paintings that are among my favorites.