Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell
Claude Monet was an impetuous young man, determined not to spend his life in his father’s store. Originally a caricaturist, when Claude is challenged by a painter friend to try landscapes, he falls in love with painting and knows he has found his life’s work. Although Monet was convinced of his own talent and that of his friends, Parisian society failed to recognize them in the same way. The artists were always short of money and hounded by their debtors. In the midst of his attempt to make a living from his art, Claude met a beautiful young woman named Camille working in her uncle’s bookstore. Convincing Camille to model for him begins a great, loving, and often rocky relationship between the great painter and his muse.
Okay, I really enjoyed this book. I know it is sort of trendy for people who are serious about art to hate on the Impressionists these days, but I love them. Actually, Impressionist works are pretty much the only paintings I like to look at. However, apart from learning about pointilism in 4th grade (we learned about and tried our hand at many Impressionist styles, but pointilism is the only one I distinctly remember), I really knew almost nothing about the Impressionists, and particularly about how the movement began. In a day when one can buy Monet’s water lilies emblazoned on almost anything, it seems strange to think that he was not an immediate success in his art. In fact, though, the entire school of Impressionism failed to meet with success for quite some time.
I think Monet’s lack of initial success was the most interesting aspect of the book for me, because it so strongly informed his relationships. For instance, Claude loved Camille deeply, but his lack of ability to provide adequately for them put a strain on their marriage that was exacerbated by her bouts of depression and her childhood growing up very well off. The other major set of relationships in the book was between Monet and his Impressionist friends. I loved the tension between them supporting one another with their limited resources and their pain over their lack of success as young men.
“Claude and Camille” gives historical context to Impressionism, contains a (complicated) love story, and includes equally complicated and yet rich relationships between friends, what’s not to like? Highly recommended.