A Review of Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell

Paperback, 352 pages
Published April 5th 2011 by Crown Publishing Group (first published 2010)
ISBN 0307463222 (ISBN13: 9780307463227)
charactersClaude Monet, Camille Doncieux, Frédéric Bazille, Alice Hoschedé
settingGiverny, 1908 (France)

Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. “Ma très chère . . .” Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. “I loved you so,” he said. “I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began, you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you but I’m old and you’re forever young and will never see them. . . .”

Hardcover included because it's beautiful!

In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Claude Monet decided that he would rather endure a difficult life painting landscapes than take over his father’s nautical supplies business in a French seaside town. Against his father’s will, and with nothing but a dream and an insatiable urge to create a new style of art that repudiated the Classical Realism of the time, he set off for Paris.

But once there he is confronted with obstacles: an art world that refused to validate his style, extreme poverty, and a war that led him away from his home and friends. But there were bright spots as well: his deep, enduring friendships with men named Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Manet – a group that together would come to be known as the Impressionists, and that supported each other through the difficult years. But even more illuminating was his lifelong love, Camille Doncieux, a beautiful, upper-class Parisian girl who threw away her privileged life to be by the side of the defiant painter and embrace the lively Bohemian life of their time.

His muse, his best friend, his passionate lover, and the mother to his two children, Camille stayed with Monet—and believed in his work—even as they lived in wretched rooms, were sometimes kicked out of those, and often suffered the indignities of destitution. She comforted him during his frequent emotional torments, even when he would leave her for long periods to go off on his own to paint in the countryside.

But Camille had her own demons – secrets that Monet could never penetrate, including one that when eventually revealed would pain him so deeply that he would never fully recover from its impact. For though Camille never once stopped loving the painter with her entire being, she was not immune to the loneliness that often came with being his partner.

A vividly-rendered portrait of both the rise of Impressionism and of the artist at the center of the movement, Claude and Camille is above all a love story of the highest romantic order.

I love Impressionist paintings, in particular Claude Monet. Specifically, the women in the garden paintings, in case anyone is curious! I am very familiar with Claude Monet's paintings.
Having minored in Art History in college and grown up with a grandfather who painted, you can say I know a bit about art! Having grown up in Manhattan, you can also say that I am blessed and very grateful to have spent a lifetime going to my local museum otherwise known as The Metropolitan Museum of Art where some of Claude Monet's Impressionist paintings reside.
I will get to France and Giverny one day if it kills me!

What author, Stephanie Cowell has done is bring the young frenchman Claude Monet to life for me. She has introduced me to him, his parents, his young starving artist friends, and his young wife, the love of his life Camille Donciex Monet, a lovely woman! It is obvious they are both very much in love eventhough both of their parents don't approve of them living together on their own without any real means of work, how will Claude take care of her? How will they get by? He keeps painting 'ladies' usually his wife Camille models, taking them to The Salon and waiting to see whether or not they have been accepted? He paints landscapes which he sells to friends for pittance which is the money on which they survive! What happens to Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux? Well, history tells us, they get married, she models for him, and he lives to old age and she dies before him but who were they really? How did they meet, fall in love?
What was it about Camille that captured the young Claude so?
We will never know will we, we weren't there...but...thanks to talented writers like Stephanie Cowell who has written a beauiful love story, I feel as if I know their story!

The Woman In A Green Dress (Camille) by Claude Monet, 1866
(The painting that started it all)

If you would like to meet Mr and Mrs Monet, if you love Impressionist art or just one of his paintings and are curious, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet you won't be sorry!

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments!


Robert Parry said…
Lovely review. Yes, the hardcover version is much more attractive - perhaps because it incorporates an original Monet painting.
Anonymous said…
Sounds like my kind of love story....and I love Monet too! gigigirl

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