Claude and Camille

 I was simply enchanted by “Claude and Camille.”  Instantly catapulted through the regions of France, I was engulfed by the color and emotions of the paintings of one of my favorite Impressionists.  Cowell created a stunning story through her simplistic, yet, detailed depictions of the evolution of Monet from a street artist doing caricatures into the master he is hailed as today.

The son of a merchant in La Havre, Monet initially scoffed when he was invited to paint landscapes with a more seasoned painter.  “Landscapes!”  Not wanting to disappoint the elder artist, he wakes up before dawn and lugs his easel and paints to a field, where he begins painting even though his fingers are frozen from the cold.  He is intrigued with how the movement of the sun throughout the day creates different visions of the same scene.  Frustrated at not being able to capture the scenic beauty in his painting, he returns the next day, and the next day.

He soon finds himself living in Paris among several other artist friends, such as Renoir, Pissarro, Manet, and Degas, all of whom are struggling to survive through art alone.  They share apartments in Paris and encourage each other to continue their work.  When one artist is successful, he shares his earnings with the others, and the favor is returned.  They live their entire lives in this way, constantly helping and supporting each other.

Convinced he needs a model in the scenes he paints, he asks a woman he has been attracted to for several years to model for him.  Camille, who is working in a bookshop and betrothed to an older rich man, is eager for adventure and quickly agrees to be his model even, though doing so was quite scandalous.  They travel to Fontainebleau, where Monet creates the masterpiece known as Woman with an Umbrella. 

When they return to Paris, Monet puts the painting in a cart and wheels it down to the exhibition hall.  Once there, he stands in line with hundreds of other hopeful painters, submitting his painting by physically giving it to the gallery and receiving only a number in return.  Weeks later, he is notified his painting was selected for the exhibition!  He attends the opening with Camille, but his excitement is fleeting when he sees that his painting was hung near the ceiling of a very high wall where it was likely overlooked by many of the people in attendance.  His inclusion in the exhibition doesn’t lead to the success he had hoped and he reverts to asking his father and aunt for money to be able to continue living and painting in Paris.  Camille moves in with Monet soon after the exhibition, and is shunned from her family.  As Monet tries to provide a good life for the woman he loves, he travels from La Havre, to London, to the Netherlands, and back to Paris. 

Near the end of the book, I was getting a little tired of reading the same arguments between them about money and Camille having to sell her dresses to pay rent.  Their constant financial struggles made it all the more unbearable that his paintings are now selling for millions of dollars when he actually enjoyed very little success from his paintings while alive.

From the onset, I described the book as “charming,” and believe that anyone who likes Monet’s paintings and has a crush on France would adore this book!  It was well written, and brimming with descriptions that truly brought to life every aspect of Monet and his pieces.  I would highly recommend it.


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