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Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell | Book review

Front cover of a book called Claude & Camille about the artist Monet and his wifeClaude Monet, the impressionist painter is one of the most famous artists that ever lived. Many people visit his house and beautiful gardens at Giverny, in Normandy, and fall in love with the artistry present in the garden’s beauty. I, like many, associate him with his famous paintings of the lily ponds there. When I think of him, it’s as an old man, standing proudly in his garden.

An artist’s passion

This book was conceived because of a visit to an exhibition the author, Stephanie Cowell, attended at the New York Metropolitan Museum in 1997. Entitled ‘The Origins of Impressionism’ it was a collection of paintings by young artists at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century. These humble, impoverished artists were passionate about their art. Sometimes ostracized by their families for refusing to take their ordained career paths, they pooled their resources and enjoyed each other’s friendship.

One of the artists featured in the exhibition is the main character in this book, the now famous Claude Monet. He was born and raised in the beautiful fishing village of Le Havre, in Normandy. Even as a young man Monet was passionate about his painting. Refusing to work in his father’s nautical supply shop, he went to Paris, stayed in the heart of the artists’ district and followed his dream.

There, he met the other love of his life, the beautiful Camille. This book is the story of their passionate, turbulent, and loving life together. Not the old man in his garden, but the young man starting out and falling in love. The unknown artist struggling to survive…

Millions flock each year to the artist’s quarter in Montmartre, and watch the talented artists drawing, sketching, and selling their paintings. The atmosphere is amazing, and when you read this story you’ll realise that it’s hardly changed for centuries. The vividly descriptive writing of the author makes you feel how it was to be alive in Paris at that time. The story reveals the passion of the artists, their comradery and determination. It also tells of the sacrifices they, and the ones they loved, had to make in order that they could follow their profession.

A stormy relationship

That Claude and Camille loved each other is certain. However, their strong characters, ideals, and changing circumstances made their relationship stormy at times. As the reader lives with them, through their fortitude and stubbornness, you really get a feeling for how much they really loved each other. Despite the challenges they faced, they were drawn to each other time and time again, regardless of how difficult life was.

Entwined through the story is the mystery of the secret letters Monet desperately wanted to gain possession of. Camille gave the letter to her sister Annette, and their content tormented Monet in his later years. And you’ll have to read it to understand why…

Looking at a ‘Monet’ having read this excellent book, I will see it with fresh eyes.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with a love of history, romance, France and art. It’s without a doubt the best book I have read of this genre.

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