Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Story Behind the Painting

In Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk, the main character, Kemal, travels the world in an effort to learn how to make the best possible museum to honor his love, Fuson.  One of the museums that he visits is the Musee Gustave Moreau, where he is inspired by the fact that Gustave Moreau turned his own home into a museum, just as Kemal planned to turn Fuson's home into her museum.  When Kemal visited that museum, I felt a twinge of regret, and a wish to go back to Paris.  The Musee Gustave Moreau was the one place that I wanted to visit in Paris that we just didn't get a chance to see.

I first read about Gustave Moreau in Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland.  Moreau was a painter, and a collector of art, during the time when the impressionists were making their mark in Paris. Reading Museum of Innocence, with Kemal mentioning the Musee Gustave Moreau, put me in the mood to read more books about the stories behind impressionist paintings.  When I stumbled upon Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman at a used book sale, I knew that it would not sit in my nightstand unread for long.

Lydia Cassatt reminded me less of Luncheon of the Boating Party, however, than it did Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.  It has been a few years since I read GWTPE, but as I remember it, the story there was told by the model, instead of the artist.  The story was also told by the model in Lydia Cassatt.  I think that I liked Luncheon of the Boating Party better, because it was told from varying perspectives, focusing on Renoir's struggles with the painting, but also telling the stories of the models. 

I also prefer Renoir's painting to those of Cassatt and Vermeer, although I didn't get to see it in Paris, since it is kept in Washington D.C.  The painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party (pictured at left)  is itself more active than the paintings by Mary Cassatt which were the subject of Lydia Cassatt (one is included at the top of this post), and the painting, Girl with the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.  There may just be more to tell about an active painting than a lone model. 

I enjoy this mini-genre of stories behind the paintings, and think that I will continue to seek them out.  Actually, Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin, is basically of the same genre, with the only difference being that the art on which that story is based is a photo instead of a painting.  I have Girl in Hyacinth Blue  by Susan Vreeland on my TBR list, which will give me the chance to see if I like her handling of the subject of Vermeer better than Chevalier's.

Next Up:  The Hidden by Tobias Hill

Still Listening to:  The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

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