Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland

A Wartime Art Story in Paris and Roussillion 

Susan Vreeland‘s historical fiction will always appeal to me, ever since an artist friend first handed me a dog-eared copy of Girl In Hyacinth Blue way back in 1999. Since then Vreeland has written quite a few art history novels, including Luncheon of the Boating Party (read about my literary day trip here), Clara and Mr. Tiffany, The Forest Lover, Life Studies and The Passion of Artemesia. I’m such a Vreeland fan, the only one I haven’t read is Life Studies. Better get on that. . . .

lisett'es listAnyway, Vreeland’s latest is called Lisette’s List (available August 26, 2014 in the US) and is everything what we have come to expect from her. It is yet another lovely art history novel, this time set in Paris and Roussillion, a quaint hilltop village in the Luberon area of France.

Much of the book takes place during and after World War II, when Lisette’s husband decides to hide his family’s valuable paintings rather than let them fall into the hands of the occupying Germans forces. The catch is, Lisette’s husband doesn’t tell her where he hid them, worried that she would be coerced into giving them up while he is off at war.

Lisette Roux’s story begins at a Catholic convent in Paris, La Maison des Filles de la Charité de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul on rue de Bac, where Sister Marie Pierre teaches Lisette enough to instill a lifetime passion for art. Lisette dreams of the day when she could work in an art gallery in Paris, the center of the art world. In the meantime, Lisette works in Maison Gérard Mulot, a rue de Seine patisserie near the convent (it’s still there – you should go there if you can!)

Lisette meets her future husband André, a talented young frame maker, on the corner of rue de Seine and boulevard Saint-Germain. They enjoy a sophisticated 1930s Montparnasse lifestyle in all of the famous cafés, including The Rotunde, La Couple, the Dingo and Closerie des Lilas.

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In 1937, Lisette and André must give up their Paris dreams to go help with Andre’s elderly grandfather who lives in a small village in southern France. Lisette misses Paris, but learns to appreciate the small quiet pleasures of provincial life. She bonds with her grandfather-in-law Pascal as he shares the story of his life, from his work in the ochre mines near Roussillon to his job as a pigment salesman and frame maker for such artists as Pissaro and Cézanne.

The not-yet-famous painters sometimes paid Pascal with a painting in lieu of money. As a result, Pascal happens to own a few incredible paintings. In some of the best passages of the book, Pascal explains how he came to own each painting and what they meant to him. Vreeland explains in her author’s note that she invented two of the paintings in the book, but the rest are real, including one of Cézanne’s paintings of Mont Saint-Victoire:

Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valey (1882-85), Metropolitan Museum of New York

Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley (1882-85), Metropolitan Museum of New York. In the book, Lisette said this was her husband’s favorite painting because it captured the region of Provence so well: “cultivated fields dotted with ochre farmhouses, a string of distant buff-colored arches of a Roman bridge, a narrow country road, tall pine trees on the left, their trunks bare, with foliage only at their tops, and the grand Montagne Saint-Victoire in the distance, a pale lavender moonlit, triangular and imposing.”

Pissaro’s Red Roofs of Pontoise:

Pissaro, Red Roofs,Corner of a Village, Winter, Le Verger, Cotes St-Denis a Pontoise, oil on canvas (1877) Musé d'Orsay, Paris

Camille Pissaro, Red Roofs, Corner of a Village, Winter, Le Verger, Côtes St-Denis à Pontoise, oil on canvas (1877) Musée d’Orsay, Paris.  In the book, the elderly character Pascal uses this painting to teach Lisette the history and significance of the ochre mines near Roussillon. He says: “And the history of Roussillon is in . . .  the tile roofs of l’Hermitage in Pontoise. Those roofs are stained red-orange from Roussillon pigments. And the red ground and the row of bushes aflame–that’s Roussillon red-ochre. That may not mean anything to you now, but if you had lived here all your life and had seen those miners come home filthy and exhausted, it would.”

As well as Pissaro’s Factory Near Pontoise:

Camille Pissaro, Pissarro, Facotry near Pontoise, oil on canvas (1873), Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA

Camille Pissaro, Factory near Pontoise, oil on canvas (1873), Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA.  In the book, Pascal tells the story about how Pissaro give him this painting. Pascal visited Pissaro at his home in Pointoise, just north of Paris, delivering a frame Pascal had just carved. Pissaro said, “I haven’t a sou, but you can choose a painting from this row for yourself.” Pascal pulled a canvas from the back of the stack and saw a small painting of a factory. Pascal recognized it as the same Arneuil paint factory in Pointoise where he had sold ochre pigments from Roussillon. As Pascal told Lisette, “Inside that building, at long lines of tables, dozens of workers turned raw pigments into paint and filled the tubes Tanguy sold to Pissaro, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gaugin, and others – the hues we made in the furnaces of the Usine Mathieu, our factory right here in Roussillon, . . . ” Lisette then realized why Pascal had chosen that painting: “Despite its ordinariness, it spoke to him of his purpose, his participation in the world of art, the link in the chain from mine to majesty, . . .” (I love that phrase, don’t you? — “From mine to majesty?)

Pascal delights in telling Lisette the story of his visit to Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence,  another lovely town about 25 miles from Roussillon. As Pascal describes Cézanne’s home: “It was a grim, cluttered old house. The studio had high ceilings and tall windows. I seem to remember a potbellied stove. Along a shelf there were white compotiers like my mother’s, straw-wrapped wine bottles, a candlestick, gray jugs, pitchers, and the green glazed toupin [olive jar] that’s in my painting.”

You can still visit Cézanne’s house and studio today. It is known as Atelier Cézanne and is located on a hill at 9 rue de Cézanne. There is also a Paul Cézanne Tour sponsored by the Aix-en-Provence Tourist Office, where you get to see the Bibémus quarries that are an important part of the story in Lisette’s List. You can even download this “Cézanne’s Footsteps Map” for your own self-guided tour through Aix.

The doorway to Cézanne's studio in Aix en Provence. The studio and gardens are open for public tours.

The doorway to Cézanne’s studio in Aix en Provence. The studio and gardens are open for public tours.

 

The foyer at Atelier Cézanne

The foyer at Atelier Cézanne

 

The interior of Cézanne's studio

The interior of Cézanne’s studio

 

A nice touch - Cézanne's coats and art smock hang in the corner of his studio.

A nice touch – Cézanne’s coats, hats and smudge-up art smock still hang in the corner of his studio.

 

The courtyard garden outside Cézanne's studio

The courtyard garden outside Cézanne’s studio

 

Lisette has her own brush with a famous artist as well, based on the true story of Marc Chagall’s escape to the French countryside and finally to New York during the early years of the German occupation. Chagall was Jewish, and was saved by a secret American rescue operation that smuggled artists and intellectuals out of Marseille with forged visas.

Vreeland imagines that the Chagalls might have hidden out in the hills of Provence. Lisette’s bus driver friend (who happens to work for the French Resistance) introduces her to the Chagalls, who are hiding out in an abandoned school for girls on the outskirts of Gordes, another hilltop village in the Luberon region. Vreeland imagined that Lisette would have had friendly chats with Bella and Marc about Chagall’s new style of painting. When Lisette returns for another neighborly visit, she learns that the Chagals had escaped to America but had left a painting behind for Lisette as a gift for her friendship.

Marc Chagall, Bella with Rooster in the Window, Private Collection. In the story, Lisette imagines that the woman in the window might be her, along with her own little pet goat named St. Genevieve.

Marc Chagall, Bella with Rooster in the Window, Private Collection. In the story, Lisette wonders whether the woman in the window is her, along with her own little pet goat named St. Genevieve. Lisette ponders: “Was the woman Bella or me? Was the man Marc or André? A crescent moon, or maybe it was a slim fish, hung in the rosy sky. I was tantalized by the ambiguity. The image blurred as I recognized Marc and Bella’s love for me.”

In Lisette’s List, Vreeland delivers a fascinating dose of art history and art appreciation, just like we have come to expect from her. I loved the way she traced the pigments all the way from the Roussillon ochre mines to the paintbrushes of Pissaro and Cézanne. I also enjoyed watching Lisette’s character transition from a Parisienne to a Provençale, adapting beautifully to the southern, rural way of life without losing her love for Paris. As Lisette herself said, “J’ai deux amours.”

If I have any reservations about the novel, it is probably that Lisette’s search for the hidden paintings seemed unduly prolonged and the plot device of “Lisette’s List” seemed a bit underwhelming. I would have enjoyed more heightened danger in the plot, and wished that the German threat had been put to use in a more sinister way. But in the end, Lisette’s story wrapped up well in post-war Paris and I was left satisfied overall.

The real treat of the novel is to read about the setting of Roussillon. I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon there, walking down its narrow red streets and shopping in its art galleries. I even had the time to take a hike down a dusty red path to see its beautiful red ochre cliffs up close. It is now a spectacular little artsy town, just as the villagers had hoped in the novel. By all means, if you’re heading to Provence, add this town to your itinerary and leave a little time to hike on the paths out to the red ochre cliffs. It’s sublime.

You might want to poke your head into Francoise Valenti’s art gallery and say hello for me. You can assure her that her round painting of the view of Paris from the breakfast table  is now quite happy at my home in Chicago.

The town of Roussillon

The town of Roussillon

 

The red ochre cliffs of Roussillon

The red ochre cliffs of Roussillon

 

The view of the Luberon from Roussillon

The view of the Luberon from Roussillon

 

An artist I admired in a gallery in Roussillon: Francoise Valenti.

A lovely oil painting of Rousillon by Francoise Valenti, an artist I admired in a gallery in Roussillon.

 

 

Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland: Highly Recommended

Be sure to visit Susan Vreeland’s website where you can find more photos and information about the inspiration for the book.

 

Van Gogh in St. Rémy

Van Gogh, Maison de Jeune (1888), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh, Yellow House (1888), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

You know the story. Van Gogh was living and painting in “The Yellow House” in Arles when he became increasingly unstable, began fighting with Gaugin, and cut off part of his own ear.

It happened just two days before Christmas in 1888. Van Gogh was hospitalized and by May of 1889 he had voluntarily committed himself to St-Paul-de-Mausole, a psychiatric asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

When Van Gogh entered the asylum, he was diagnosed with a form of acute mania and epilepsy. The lead physician, Dr. Théophile Peyron, believed that only complete rest would help, but Theo Van Gogh convinced Peyron to allow his brother limited painting privileges. Van Gogh converted an adjacent cell into an art studio and began painting within the grounds of the hospital. Later, Van Gogh was considered stable enough to paint in the fields around Saint-Rémy as long as he was accompanied by a hospital aid.

It is here that Van Gogh would paint Starry Night and some of his most magnificent paintings, over 130 of them during this one-year period alone.

Van Gogh, Starry Night (1889), Museum of Modern Art, New York

Van Gogh, Starry Night (1889), Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

A trip to St-Paul-de-Mausole was on this art lover’s travlist for years. St. Rémy is a lovely little town within a short drive of Avignon in southern France. I traveled there in September, when unfortunately no lavender or iris were in bloom. If you’re lucky enough to visit from late June through early August, you might catch the gardens at just the right time.

You can take a guided tour of the grounds of St-Paul through the St-Rémy tourist office or grab a map and do it yourself. There is a lovely pedestrian path with art walk signs all the way from the tourist office to St-Paul-de-Mausole (Le Promenade Dans L’Univers de Vincent Van Gogh).

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Van Gogh, St-Paul-de-Mausole (1888), Private Collection

Van Gogh, Vue de l’Asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Rémy (1888), Private Collection. The late actress Elizabeth Taylor bought this painting in 1963 and reportedly kept it above her mantel for the rest of her life. It was auctioned off to a private buyer in 2012 for $16 million, twice its estimated value at the time.

 

St-Paul-de-Mausole, view from the back gardens in September

St-Paul-de-Mausole, view from the back gardens in September

 

St-Paul-de-Mausole view from the back gardens in September

St-Paul-de-Mausole view from the back gardens in September

 

Van Gogh, St-Paul-de-Mausole, Dr. Peyron (1888)

Van Gogh, St-Paul-de-Mausole, Dr. Peyron (1888)

 

St-Paul-de-Mausole

St-Paul-de-Mausole, view with blue shutters but without Dr. Peyron

 

St-Paul-de-Mausole, front entrance

St-Paul-de-Mausole, front entrance

The Asylum Garden at Arles, 1889 (oil on canvas), Gogh, Vincent van (1853-90) / Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur, Switzerland / The Bridgeman Art Library

Van Gogh. The Asylum Garden at Arles, 1889 (oil on canvas), Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur, Switzerland

 

The inner courtyard garden of St-Paul-de-Mausole

The inner courtyard garden of St-Paul-de-Mausole

 

Van Gogh, Irises (1888), Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Van Gogh, Irises (1888), Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

One of the art site signs at St-Pul-de-Mausole indicating the place where Van Gogh painted his Iris series

One of the art walk signs at St-Pul-de-Mausole indicating the place where Van Gogh painted his Iris series. Unfortunately, the irises weren’t in bloom at the time of my visit.

Van Gogh, Olive Orchard, June 1889 Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Van Gogh, Olive Orchard, June 1889 Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

The olive trees surrounding St-Paul-de-Mausole

The olive trees surrounding St-Paul-de-Mausole

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One of the many lovely art walk signs in St. Remy identifying the site of a Van Gogh painting

 

 

The lovely walk up to St-Paul-de-Mausole

The lovely walk up to St-Paul-de-Mausole

Entrance to St-Paul-de-Mausole

Entrance to St-Paul-de-Mausole

Sculpture of Van Gogh at the entrance of St-Paul-de-Mausole

Sculpture of Van Gogh at the entrance of St-Paul-de-Mausole

A quiet street in nearby St-Rémy

A quiet street in sunny St-Rémy

Delicious provençal dish for lunch in St-Rémy - Provençal Tomatoes

Delicious provençal dish for lunch in St-Rémy – Provençal Tomatoes

 

Lovely little art shop in nearby St-Rémy called Charvin

Lovely little art shop in nearby St-Rémy called Charvin

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Through Rembrandt’s Eyes: The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal

I found another lovely art history novel that I think you really must read. If you loved Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, chances are you’re going to enjoy this one too.

anatomy lesson

The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal (Doubleday, 2014) tells the story behind The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632), Rembrandt’s famous painting from the Mauritshuis in The Hague.

I love novels based on famous paintings (the list goes on and on: The Goldfinch, The Painted Girls, The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, so many that I think I need to do a follow-up post). But still, I couldn’t help but wonder, why would Nina Siegal choose this painting to write about? After all, it’s a bunch of Dutch guys goggling over a cadaver, right?

 

Rembrant, Anatomy of Dr. Nicholaes Van Tulp (1632), The HAuge, Marthuis

Rembrant, Anatomy of Dr. Nicholaes Van Tulp (1632), The Hague, Mauritshuis

The story behind a public autopsy in Amsterdam in the 1600s seems like a difficult subject for a novel, certainly less approachable than writing about Vermeer’s pretty girl with a pearl earring. But Siegal was meant to write this story. She grew up with a reproduction of this painting in her father’s study and has been intrigued with it all of her life.

Siegal was drawn into reading nonfiction accounts of Rembrandt’s life as well as the people and the cadaver pictured in The Anatomy Lesson. There were conflicting stories about the people behind the painting, which left Siegal a great deal of creative freedom to plan her own narrative. I think she did a marvelous job.

The story is told from alternating points of view including Rembrandt, Dr. Nicholaes Tulp, the French philosopher René Descartes, the dead man, a coat thief named Aris Kindt, as well as Aris’s sweetheart Flora. Each character adds interest and depth to the portrait, but it is the sympathetic love story between Aris and Flora that brings it to life.

When Rembrandt meets Flora and learns more about Aris’s story, Rembrandt is inspired to go far beyond the intent of the original commission – which was to make a portrait of the town’s elite Amsterdam Surgeon’s Guild – and to create a masterpiece that would honor Aris’s short tragic life.

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, c. 1632, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, c. 1632, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland. Rembrandt made dozens of self-portraits throughout his career, but this one was made the same year he painted The Anatomy Lesson. It is the first portrait where he is starting to look like a successful painter. The success with The Anatomy Lesson did indeed launch his career.

 

I guess it’s no surprise that the scenes where Rembrandt was actually planning and executing the painting were my favorites. Siegal did a beautiful job of explaining how Rembrandt used highlights to create the mood and focal point of the scene, and why he didn’t display the body cut wide open during the autopsy.

I brought my lantern closer to the easel again. What if I were to illuminate Adriaen, to bring him into the light? If he were not sliced open and degraded but instead elevated and lit? What if I did not show the power of the men over him but his own power over them?

. . .

As I continued to dab my paintbrush into the Kassel earth and bone black, I recognized what was possible through this portrait. I could make a broken man whole. I added some lead white to my palette and painted on, . . . adding color to the flesh so that it was pristine.

 

 

Reading this book you get a sense that young Rembrandt is at a turning point in his life, and that he is about to become the master painter that we all know today. When Siegal has him pick up his paintbrush to finish The Anatomy Lesson, you feel as if this is the moment that his genius was sparked.

Most art travelers know that Amsterdam is the home of the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. But if you’ve never been to the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam you really need to put it on your Art Travel Bucket List. It’s a complete gem.

Rembrandt bought the house in 1639, just a few years after he painted The Anatomy Lesson, the same year he was commissioned to paint Nightwatch. He was living large, but only for the next 15 years. He went bankrupt in 1656 and was forced to auction off his house and assets. Luckily, the house was never torn down and was bought by the city of Amsterdam in 1906. It has been beautifully restored to the condition it would have been in during Rembrandt’s day, including many reproductions of his own and other paintings he collected. The museum staff offers daily art demonstrations in the etching and painting studios.

If you can’t get there soon, maybe you can still enjoy my photos. They’re not the best quality, but you get the idea.

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The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal: Highly recommended

The Rembrandthuis in Amsterdam: Also highly recommended

For further reading: I highly recommend another historical novel set in Amsterdam: History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason. Read my post about that book and the Willet-Holthuysen Museum in Amsterdam here.

History of a Pleasure Seeker - US paperback cover

History of a Pleasure Seeker – US paperback cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cassat and Degas: A Love Story?

i always loved you

I Always Loved You is Robin Oliveira’s wonderfully atmospheric story about Mary Cassatt’s early years in Paris, beginning in 1877 when Edgar Degas invited her to exhibit with the revolutionary group of French artists known as the Impressionists. Oliveira has done a fabulous job of capturing the place and times of these 19th century artists, including Degas, Morisot, Manet, Renoir Caillebotte and Pissaro.

Oliveira offers us lively and colorful scenes in Paris, from the studios of Montmartre to the salon scene along the Champs d’Elysée. I have photos of some of these scenes in an earlier post called Mary Cassatt’s Greater Journey, including her homes on avenues Trudaine and Marignan.

As the title suggests, this book imagines that there was more to the story of the friendship  between Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Degas and Cassatt were known to be very close friends and colleagues. It is absolutely true that Degas had an enormous influence on Cassatt’s art and life. But was there ever more? Oliveira imagines their story as a love story.

Edgar Degas Self-Portrait (1886)

Edgar Degas Self-Portrait (1886), pastel on paper

Mary Cassatt, Self-Portrait (1878),  gouche on paper 23x17in Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Mary Cassatt, Self-Portrait (1878), gouche on paper 23×17″ 
Metropolitan Museum of Art,

But wait. Wasn’t Degas the disagreeable painter of nude prostitutes, working class absinthe drinkers and the petit rats from the demi-monde of the Opéra? He had a bad reputation, if rumors are to be believed. Some have made him out to be celibate, impotent, a misogynist, or even a sex offender.

And wasn’t Cassatt a cloistered woman of high social standing, best known for her tender portraits of mothers and children?

What could these two possibly have in common? Despite their differences, there was something that bound the two together, and I believe it was their fanatic devotion to their art. They both worked brutally hard at their technique and admired that in each other. They loved capturing the color of flesh and preferred to paint indoors, unlike many of the other Impressionists. They were the most experimental of the Impressionists, spending a great deal of time working and re-working their prints.

Was there ever more than this professional bond? We will never know. Cassatt destroyed all of her letters with Degas before she died. Oliveira draws her own inferences from that big mysterious gap, but I’m not so sure. Can’t Cassatt’s extraordinary work speak for itself? Isn’t her true story – as far as we know it – enough? Isn’t it enough that Cassatt and Degas had an intense, complicated, or even tortured friendship? Why do we have to impose on her our desire for romance?

This story is different than the one about the love affair between Edith Wharton and Morton Fullerton that Jennie Fields wrote about in Age of Desire (2012). That imagined story was based on Edith Wharton own letters. Her late-in-life extramarital affair might have been a surprise to Wharton’s many fans and admirers, but it was undeniably true. And with it came the revelation that Edith Wharton had written her own erotica. Quelle surprise! 

The Cassatt-Degas question is similar to the one between Berthe Morisot and her brother-in-law Édouard Manet, whose story is also told in Oliveira’s book. There were rumors of a romance there too, and inferences to be drawn. Both Morisot and Manet left behind some remarkable paintings that give us a potential peek at their inner secrets. I’ve written about this in the past – you might want to check out this previous post, Berthe Morisot’s Interior.

So are there any clues in Degas and Cassatt’s work?

Degas made numerous drawings, prints, pastels and etchings of Cassatt in the years between 1879 and 1885. But there is not one nude, no sweet smiles or sultry stares. Mary Cassatt would never have subjected herself to that kind of exposure. All we have are inscrutable poses like this:

Edgar Degas, Portrait of Mary Cassatt (1880-1884).  Mary Stevenson Cassatt / Edgar Degas / Oil on canvas, c. 1880-1884 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation and the Regents' Major Acquisitions Fund, Smithsonian Institution.

Mary Stevenson Cassatt  by Edgar Degas, Oil on canvas, (1880-1884), National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Degas made a series of studies, drawings and prints of Mary and her sister Lydia at the Louvre, including this study of Mary’s silhouette:

Mary Cassatt at the Louvre, Edgar Degas, Study (1880)

Mary Cassatt at the Louvre, Edgar Degas, Study in pastel (1880), Philadephia Museum of Art

The second pose is flattering, and has an unmistakeable sense of Degas’ interested gaze, but it is a long way from suggesting that they were lovers.

And yet it nags us, if there was nothing improper, why would Cassatt destroy their letters? It is entirely within this mysterious gap that Oliveria’s book takes place.

The letter burning story does make for lovely opening and closing scenes in I Always Loved You. Cassatt is elderly and living with no one but her long-term housekeeper at her country home, the Chateau de Beaufresne, and she is reading the letters she and Degas wrote to each other.

But she had kept these letters, as he had kept hers, though what they had been thinking, she couldn’t imagine. Such recklessness. Private conversations should always remain private. Why should anyone know what they themselves had barely known?

At the very end of the book, Oliveria returns to this same scene and shows Cassatt sitting in the dim light next to the fire, nearly blind from cataracts, as she decides to destroy the letters.

Was it a crime to burn memory? She didn’t know. Memory is all we have, Degas had once said. Memory is what life is, in the end.

She would be ash herself, soon, like all the others. She thrust the letters one by one into the fire. . . .

The pages burned on and on. And in those flames the years evaporated, the things unsaid and foregone, the misunderstandings and misconceptions and subverted hopes, the things that would now never be said.

Did they or didn’t they? We’ll never know for sure. Oliveira’s book offers one possible interpretation. What’s yours?

Mary Cassatt at Chateau de Beaufresne, undated photo. Source: http://www.mary-cassatt.net

Mary Cassatt at Chateau de Beaufresne, undated photo. Source: http://www.mary-cassatt.net

Chateau de Beaufresne (2012 photo). Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Château_de_Beaufresne.JPG

Chateau de Beaufresne (2012 photo). Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Château_de_Beaufresne.JPG

If you’re a fan of Mary Cassatt and would like to see more photos of Chateau de Beaufresne and the family gravesite nearby in Mesnil-Théribus, go to http://www.mary-cassatt.net. I hope to get there myself on my next trip to Paris.

Demeter’s Choice: A Portrait of Artist Mary Lawrence Tonetti

 

Demeter's Choice

Demeter’s Choice: A Portrait of My Grandmother as a Young Artist is the story of a young American sculptor named Mary Lawrence Tonetti who began studying under Augustus Saint-Gaudens at a very young age. She came of age in the art studios of New York and Paris in the late 19th century, and is most famous for her sculpture of Christopher Columbus for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

The author is the sculptor’s own granddaughter, Mary Tonetti Dorra, who had access to wonderful personal information to make the story rich with detail and insight. There are even copies of some of Mary Lawrence’s original pen and ink sketches and travel notes.

Demeter’s Choice tells the story of one woman’s choice between art and love. Mary Lawrence led a remarkable, artistic life both before and after her big choice. It’s a life worth knowing more about. And for the followers of this blog who like to hear about art history in Paris, I’ll point out all of the Paris sites and scenes of interest.

Mary Lawrence Tonetti (1868-1945). Source: sgnhs.org.

Mary Lawrence Tonetti (1868-1945). Source: sgnhs.org.

Mary Lawrence was a privileged young woman (her ancestors included a mayor of New York and Captain James Lawrence, a famous patriot famous for his wartime utterance: “Don’t give up the ship!”) who began a pampered life in Cliffside, her family’s large estate overlooking the Hudson River in Sneden’s Landing, New York. Mary was known to have grown up with a “robust temperament” and a taste for the outdoors. (Which to me is the Gilded Age way of saying she was a handful, a tomboy, a bit of a rebel. Funny how many of those kinds of Gilded Age girls turned out to be artists, especially sculptors….)

Mary enjoyed art from a very young age. When she was only seven years old, her family arranged for the up-and-coming Augustus Saint-Gaudens to come up to Sneden’s Landing to teach drawing and sculpture to Mary a group of other children. (Not a bad start for a kid!) When she was older, Mary continued art lessons at Saint-Gauden’s Fourteenth Street Studio in the German Savings Bank in New York City. Saint-Gaudens would have a huge influence on Mary’s life and career in art.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, mentor and friend of Mary Lawrence

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, mentor and friend of Mary Lawrence

German Savings Bank around 1872, site of Augustus St. Gaudens studio. Source: Office for Metropolitan HIstory NYC

The German Savings Bank around 1872, the site of Augustus Saint-Gaudens 14th Street studio. Source: Office for Metropolitan History NYC.

By the time Mary was twenty years old, she was personal friends with Saint-Gaudens’ whole crowd, including the architects Charles McKim and Stanford White. Demeter’s Choice has a lovely scene where Saint-Gaudens, McKim and White joined Mary for a picnic at Sneden’s Landing before she set sail on her first Grand Tour of Europe in 1886. There were hints that Charles McKim, a married man of nearly forty, was already falling in love with her despite their vast difference in age.

Accompanied by a supportive aunt and her more conventional sister Edith, Mary Lawrence made the Grand Tour of Europe, including a summer of sightseeing through Belguim and Germany before she would settle in Paris and begin her art studies it the women’s atelier of the Académie Julian.

Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of one of Académie Julian's atelier for women

Passage des Panoramas, just off of boulevard Montmartre in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of one of Académie Julian’s atelier for women. The studio is no longer there, but a stroll through the arcade will still give you a sense of the time and place.

Marie Baskirtsheff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian.

Marie Bashkirtseff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian by a Russian student famous for her memoir, The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff.

Being a friend and an assistant to Augustus Saint-Gaudens opened many doors upon Mary’s arrival in Paris. He introduced her to many of the American artists who worked or studied there, including Mary Louise Fairchild from St. Louis, who was studying with Carolus-Duran and the Académie Julian on a prestigious fellowship. In Demeter’s Choice, the two Marys meet at the opening night of the Paris Salon of 1886, where Mary Fairchild’s portrait of Sara Hallowell was on display. Sara Hallowell was an American art agent for wealthy American art collectors such as Bertha Palmer of Chicago. Sara lived part of the year in Paris developing close relationships with Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Auguste Rodin. Mary Lawrence was making all the right connections too, a rare opportunity for such a young artist.

Mlle S. H. (Sara Tyson Hollowell) by Mary Fairchild (1886). Source: www.pubhist.com)

Mlle S. H. (Sara Tyson Hollowell) oil on canvas by Mary Fairchild (1886). Property of The Warden and Fellows of Robinson College, University of Cambridge. This is the portrait that was exhibited in the 1886 Paris Salon where Mary Lawrence met Mary Fairchild and Sara Hallowell. Source: http://www.pubhist.com

Within a week of her arrival in Paris, Mary Lawrence was invited to Auguste Rodin’s art studio which he shared with his student and young mistress Camille Claudel. Together they strolled through the studio where Mary got to see the models for The Burghers of Calais and some of the figures from The Gates of Hell. Today you can see these works for yourself at the Musée Rodin, one of my favorite museums in Paris. Inside you can even see some of Camille Claudel’s sculptures as well.

Mary and her sister settled into their apartment at 56 rue Notre Dame des Champs in the heart of the Left Bank of Paris, within a few blocks of some of the biggest names in the art world, such as John Singer Sargent, Carolus-Duran, James Whistler and William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Saint-Gaudens and his wife lived nearby, at 3 rue Herschel just on the other side of the Luxembourg Gardens. Like many Americans ever since then, Mary came to adore Paris, from the macaroons at LaDurée, to the baguettes from her local boulangerie to a lovely stroll through the Palais Royal.

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Being a young woman of privilege in the Gilded Age meant you had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe instead of having to freeze or starve your way through a miserable winter in Paris. Mary Lawrence left Paris for a few winter months in Italy with her family entourage before she returned to New York in the summer of 1887. By the spring of 1888, she had returned to Paris for another season of classes at the Académie Julian.

Once her second session of Paris art studies were over, Mary returned to New York, where she taught at the Art Students League, served as Saint-Gaudens’ assistant and worked on her own sculpting projects.

In the fall of 1891, Mary learned that she would be awarded a contract to create a statue of Christopher Columbus for the Chicago World’s Fair under the supervision of Saint-Gaudens. It was a huge honor. Most women who received commissions for the fair (such as Mary Cassatt, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies and Sophia Hayden) were contracted through a separate Board of Lady Managers led by the Chicago society queen Bertha Palmer. Mary Lawrence received her commission directly from the Fair Commissioners, who were all male. You can read a fun 1893 New York Times article about Mary’s commission here.

Demeter’s Choice tells the wonderful story of a fight between Mary Lawrence and her supporters versus Frank Millet, a particularly odious fair organizer, who objected to the prominent placement of her Columbus statue because it was made by a “female novice.” Millet actually arranged to have it moved to a spot near the train station. You’ll have to read for yourself to learn what happened next. If you look at the image below, it is amazing what a good job young Mary Lawrence did – she was young, but certainly no novice.

"Columbus Taking Possession." The Administration Building From Columbian Gallery: A Portfolio of Photographs of the World's Fair, The Werner Company. The prominent and handsome figure of Columbus, which stood in the portal, was the work of Miss Mary T. Lawrence, and represented the landing of Columbus, and the planting of the Spanish flag in the colonies of the New World. 1893. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/field_museum_library/3409425513/in/photostream/

“Columbus Taking Possession.”  Mary Lawrence’s statue of Columbus, which stood in the portal of the Administration Building at the Chicago Worlds Fair. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/field_museum_library/3409425513/in/photostream/

After the excitement of the Chicago World’s Fair was over, Mary went back to Paris. She continued her studies at the Académie Julian and renewed her many friendships with the artists of the Left Bank and beyond. Mary was on everyone’s guest list, attending soirées hosted by the likes of Charles Dana Gibson and James Whistler. It was at Gibson’s glamorous ball and then again at Whistler’s home at 110 rue de Bac that Mary Lawrence met François Tonetti, a sculpting assistant to Frederick MacMonnies. The rest, as they say, was history.

The plaque at James Whistler's home in rue de Bac where Mary Lawrence first met François Tonetti in 1893. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/monceau/7759948652/

The plaque at James Whistler’s home on rue de Bac, where Mary Lawrence and François Tonetti met for the second time in 1893. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/monceau/7759948652/

A close-up image of a portrait of François Tonetti by François Flameng. Source: http://palisadesny.com/nature/take-hike/

A close-up image of a portrait of François Tonetti by François Flameng. Source: http://palisadesny.com/nature/take-hike/

Even after she met the charming and passionate François, Mary Lawrence continued to work as a sculptor in her own Twenty-Third Street studio in New York and to teach Saint-Gaudens’ classes at the Art Students League through most of the1890s. Charles McKim continued to pursue her, as did François, her favorite Frenchman.

Saint-Gaudens didn’t want his protégée to marry, worried that she would give up her art for a house full of “festive children.” He asked: “wIll she just die and fade into the wife of François Tonetti…?” Others objected because François wasn’t from the “same stock” as the Lawrences. Mary’s own sister pressed her to choose Charles McKim, who offered a more proper and promising future than a bohemian artist could.

No matter what choice Mary Lawrence would make, it was clear that she wouldn’t die and fade away. She would always live in a world of art. Mary Lawrence lived the rest of her life surrounded by artists, founding and developing an artist’s colony in Sneden’s Landing. Generations of artists and actors have enjoyed living there, including Gerald and Sara Murphy, Orson Wells, Lawrence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Al Pacino, Angelina Jolie, Bill Murray and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Just for fun, you can check out this recent gossip article about Tom Cruise checking out the real estate in Sneden’s Landing.

Quite a story and quite a legacy. We are so lucky that Mary Lawrence’s granddaughter wrote it all down. 

Mary Tonetti Dorra. Source: www.marytonettidora.com.

Mary Tonetti Dorra. Source: http://www.marytonettidorra.com.

Author Mary Tonetti Dorra has a list of appearances scheduled in early 2014. You can check them out for yourself on her website.

Review and Recommendation by Margie White of the American Girls Art Club in Paris

Fanny and Louis in Grez

wide starry sky

Nancy Horan, the bestselling author of Loving Frank, comes now with her long-awaited second novel, based on the nineteenth century love story between Fanny van de Grift Osbourne, a not-exactly-divorced American mother of three and the much younger writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

The pair met in the summer of 1875 in Grez, an art colony in France in the Fountainebleu Forest. Fanny had arrived in France the year before to escape her unhappy marriage and to study art alongside her 17 year-old daughter Belle.

Fanny and Belle were enjoying their studies in the women’s drawing classes at the Académie Julian alongside other international students, including May Alcott, Louisa May Alcott’s little sister. (You can read more about May Alcott’s art studies and travels through France at my previous post, Little Women in Dinan.)

After enduring an unspeakable tragedy in Paris, Fanny decides to bring her children to Grez for some quiet recovery time in the country. A fellow art student at the Académie Julian suggested a quiet place, “an inn at Grez, on the Loing River. It’s close to Barbizon but away from all the bustle, and cheap. It’s near the Fountainebleu Forest.” Fanny talks her estranged husband from California into supporting them for one more year in Europe.

Nancy Horan describes Grez-sur-Loing well:

[N]estled in the midst of vast farm fields, the village was a smattering of stone houses, a picturesque bridge, and a ruined twelfth-century tower with ferns growing in its cracked walls.

During my year in France I loved to plan field trips to art history sites, and I just happened to spend a gray day in Grez myself. You can read another post (Visit an Art Colony in France: Grez-sur-Loing) about my trip to Grez, which includes directions and more information about the different artists who lived and painted there.

Here are some photos of Grez that readers of Under the Wide and Starry Sky and fans of Robert Louis Stevenson might especially enjoy:

Standing in front of the bridge at Grez-sur-Loing in 2012.

Standing in front of the bridge at Grez-sur-Loing in 2012. The picturesque  12th century Tour de Ganne is in the background.

The 17th century Tour de Ganne in Grez

The 12th century Tour de Ganne in Grez

The Tour de Ganne in Grez from the grassy walk down toward the river

The Tour de Ganne in Grez as seen from the grassy walk down toward the river

On the main street in Grez: Church of Our Lady and Saint Lawrence, 12th century

On the main street in Grez: Church of Our Lady and Saint Lawrence, 12th century

In the book, Nancy Horan has Fanny’s friend Margaret Wright tell her about the Hotel Chevillon in Grez, “one of the most bohemian of the bohemian gathering places near the Fountainebleu Forest.” Says Margaret:

Barbizon has become too fashionable. It’s overrun by poseurs more interested in the mis-en-scene than in producing any actual art. The real painters go to Grez. . . . And you needn’t worry. They will leave you alone, I think.

Little did Fanny know that the bohemians who enjoyed the summer season at Hotel Chevillon were dismayed to hear that an American woman and her children had arrived at the inn. Bob Stevenson (Robert Louis Stevenson’s cousin, and an artist in his own right) arrived ahead of the group of “Glasgow Boys” from Scotland with the intention of chasing Fanny away. In the book, Bob Stevenson hints Fanny might want to find other more suitable accommodations:

There’s an onslaught about to begin. . . . Once the others start to arrive you’ll discover this isn’t the place to be if you are hoping for a little peace. Madame Chevillon said you had come for the quiet. . . . There are places not far from here that would serve you much better if you are here to rest. . . .

But things would turn out much differently than the Stevensons had planned. Within a few short weeks, both of the Stevenson cousins would have a crush on Fanny. Although Fanny was 10 years older than Louis, they found comfort in each others hearts and minds. In the meantime, Fanny’s 17 year-old daughter Belle fell in love with the Irish artist Frank O’Meara.

The Hotel Chevillon still stands today, although it is not open to the public. It is a private art residency center operated by The Grez-sur-Loing Foundation in Sweden, which manages a stipend program for visiting artists, authors and photographers. There is even a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship available for interested writers (the application deadline for 2014 is February 28th, but it looks like it is limited to residents of Scotland.)

Hotel Chevillon is located on rue Carl Larsson, which is named after the Swedish painter.

Hotel Chevillon, the place where Fanny and Louis met,  is still standing! It is located on rue Carl Larsson, which is named after the Swedish painter. It was restored in 1994 and serves as an art center and residency program.

Hotel Chevillon: the place where Fanny Van de Grif Osbourne met Robert Louis Stevenson.

Hotel Chevillon from the street.

A view of the back balcony of Hotel Chevillon where Fanny, Louis and their fellow bohemians gathered to paint and relx by the river

A view of the back balcony of Hotel Chevillon from the nearby bridge. Just on the other side of this wall is where Fanny, Louis and their fellow bohemians gathered to paint and relax.

The backyard of the Hotel Chevillon today. Can you picture Fanny and Louis back there? Source: Carol Ferrelly, http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/blog/writing/2013/11/five-things-robert-louis-stevenson-fellowship

The backyard of the Hotel Chevillon today. Can you picture Fanny and Louis back there back in the day? Source: Carol Ferrelly, http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/blog/writing/2013/11/five-things-robert-louis-stevenson-fellowship

Hotel Chevillon by Sir John Lavery (1883), an Irish artist who visited Grez and painted this captivating picture of the garden at Hotel Chevillon.

Hotel Chevillon by Sir John Lavery (1883), an Irish artist who visited Grez. This painting captures the feel of the garden at Hotel Chevillon back in the time of Fanny and Louis. Source: http://www.paintingmainia.com

After their summer meeting in Grez, Fanny and her children returned to Paris, where they settled into an apartment in Montmartre. Louis would continue his pursuit of Fanny from Paris to California and beyond. They would finally marry in 1880 and spend their years traveling the world.

John Singer Sargent would paint a strange but perceptive portrait of RLS and Fanny when they were all living in Bournemouth, England in 1885. Apparently, Fanny was not too happy about the way she is marginalized and made to look so Moorish in this painting. As for me, I find it fascinating. What an odd pair.

Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife by John Singer Sargent (1885)

Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife by John Singer Sargent (1885)

Under The Wide and Starry Sky is an interesting portrait of an unorthodox and artistic couple from history, not unlike the story of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney. However, this love story didn’t seem nearly as compelling as Loving Frank, and I’m not sure why. Neither RLS nor Fanny are particularly admirable people, but then, neither were Frank and Mamah. For some reason, it bothered me that Fanny lacked any substantial talent or drive as an artist, that she acted so passively in the face of her son’s serious illness, and that she waffled over her commitment to a horrible marriage. Maybe it’s my mistake, expecting a 19th century woman to act with as much agency as a 21st century woman, but still, it interfered with my ability to identify and sympathize with Fanny. I have to admit, I take strange delight in the take-down Fanny suffers under the paintbrush of John Singer Sargent.

Even if Under the Wide and Starry Sky doesn’t measure up to Loving Frank, I would still recommend this book to fans of historical fiction, especially if you are interested in learning more about the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson or the 19th century art scene in Paris. And if you happen to be visiting Paris anytime soon, I highly recommend a day trip out to Grez.  

The Swing: Renoir, Jeanne and Me

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Swing, 1876. Musée d’Orsay, bequest of Gustave Caillebotte, 1894. On loan to the Art Institute of Chicago for the Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity Exhibit, June-September, 2013

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Swing, 1876. Musée d’Orsay, bequest of Gustave Caillebotte, 1894. On loan to the Art Institute of Chicago for the Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity Exhibit, June-September, 2013

The Swing by Pierre-Auguste Renoir is on its last “swing” through the United States in connection with the Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago (through September 29, 2013). It’s a beautiful painting to see up close, whether you catch in in Chicago or back in its home at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

But it’s even more fun to climb onto the matching swing at the Musée Montmartre in Paris and indulge in a little reenactment of your own. If only I had found some blue bows and a couple of dapper admirers in a boater’s hats, I would have been all set.

That's me on the swing at the Musée Montmartre.

That’s me on the swing at the Musée Montmartre. Not the most flattering pose, and not the most fashionable ensemble, but a black turtleneck, jeans and black boots made up my daily Paris uniform in the cooler months. No bows, no corsets and no princess-cut muslim gown for me.

Museé Montmartre, 12-14 rue Cortot, Paris (18th)

Museé Montmartre, 12-14 rue Cortot, Paris (18th). You should go!

Recommended Reading: Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir (2001)

renoir my father

Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir (2001)

Where the Light Falls: An American Artist in Paris

wherethelightfalls

Where The Light Falls by Katherine Keenum is a lovely painterly novel set in late 19th century Paris. What a perfect book for a review and literary tour by The American Girls Art Club in Paris.

You can find various sites in the book on Where the Light Falls Literary Tour in Google Maps.

The story begins when a young artist named Jeannette Palmer gets expelled from Vassar College for helping her roommate elope.  Despite her public shaming, Jeannette talks her prominent Ohio family into supporting further art studies in Paris.

Jeannette and her chaperone, a “spinster” cousin, find lodging in a pension on rue Jacob on the Left Bank, while Jeannette enrolls in the women’s drawing class at the Académie Julian. Had Jeannette arrived in Paris a decade or so later, she could have easily been one of the lodgers at The American Girls Art Club in Paris, which opened its doors in 1893. Instead, Jeannette would be one of the first-wave  trailblazers of American women artists to journey to France.

Jeannette’s story is loosely based on the life of the author’s own great-grandmother, who was indeed expelled from Vassar College and who traveled to Paris to study art with Carolus-Duran. Because no journals, letters or memoirs survived, Katherine Keenum had to rely on her imagination to tell her great-grandmother’s story.

Keenum’s research is considerable, but it feels like a natural part of the story. When Jeannette is learning from such famous masters as William-Adolphe Bouguereau or Carolus-Duran, you feel like you’re there too. Keenum places Jeannette in Paris at a turning point in the history of art; it is remarkable how much Jeannette and her cousin Effie get to witness in just two years.

One of Keenum’s primary sources for the life and times of an American art student abroad  was Abigail May Alcott Nieriker’s guidebook for women artists called Studying Art Abroad and How to Do it Cheaply (1879), which describes May’s studies at Académie Julian, her approach to life in Paris, and her travels throughout France. (In a previous blog post here called Little Women in Dinan, France, I wrote about May and her famous sister’s travels abroad.) 

Jeannette begins her studies at the Académie Julian, a private art school which welcomed women into segregated studios, unlike L’Ecole des Beaux Arts. The first women’s atelier at Académie Julian was located in the Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. This Paris Passage still stands today – it it a lovely historic covered mall at 11 Boulevard Montmartre.

In Chapter 8, Jeannette has a hard time finding the stairs that led to the second floor studio of the Académie Julian. Keenum describes a set of service stairs along one of the transverse passages, but on my various visits to the Passage des Panoramas during my year in Paris, I was never able to find them. I could see a second floor under the peaked glass ceiling, I just couldn’t get there. I’d love to hear from any of my followers to see if they’ve ever managed to gain access to the second floor of the Passage des Panormas, or if it’s a place that belongs only to the past.

Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of one of Académie Julian's atelier for women

An old sign inside the Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, the location of Académie Julian’s first atelier for women in the 1870s. You can still walk through the Passage today for a sense of the 19th century.

An interior view of the Passage des Panoramas in which a second floor is visible. I just couldn't figure out how to get up there.

An interior view of the Passage des Panoramas. In Chapter 8, Keenum describes it like this: “Inside, restaurants and small specialty shops crowded both sides of an arcade. Painted signs hung out at right angles overhead like banners; a tiled mosaic floor ran for two blocks. Above a second story of shops, the whole length was roofed with a peaked ceiling of glass.”

Passage des Panoramas

Passage des Panoramas entrance at 11 Boulevard Montmartre

Marie Baskirtsheff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian.

Marie Baskirtsheff, In The Studio (1881). A painting of the women of Académie Julian by one of its most famous students. Although the women were allowed to paint from live nude models, this painting avoids controversy and shows a draped figure of a young boy. Dnipropetrovsk State Art Museum, Ukraine. In Chapter 8, one of Jeanette’s classmates points out their fellow student “The Countess,” [Countess Marie Bashkirtseff] “a star student in the class for the full nude.” The Countess is supposedly picture in the center of this painting with the palette in her lap.

Atelier Julian, undated, so it is possible it is from the other women's atelier on rue de Berri. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

A photo of one of the women’s classes a Académie Julian. It is undated, so it is possible it is from the other women’s atelier which opened in the 1880s on rue de Berri near the Champs Elysée. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

A photography of some of the female messiers (studio assistants) of the Académie Julian. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

A photograph of some of the female messiers (studio assistants) of the Académie Julian. Source:http://verat.pagesperso-orange.fr/la_peinture/Mixite_Beaux-Arts.htm

William-Adolphe Bougeureau, Self-Portrait (1879)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Self-Portrait (1879). Bouguereau was a famous 19th century Salon artist who provided private instruction for both men and women at the Académie Julian. He would be engaged to one of his American students, Elizabeth Jane Gardner, for 17 years. They would finally marry in 1896 after the death of his mother, who strongly disapproved of the match.

The Académie Julian still stands today on the rue du Dragon.

The Académie Julian still stands today on the rue du Dragon in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. This was originally one of the men’s ateliers, but has long accepted both men and women.

Jeannette enjoys her studies at the Académie Julian under William-Adolphe Bouguereau, but really, Bouguereau only passes through the class a couple of times a week with a few comments like pas mal, pas mal. Although she’s making friends with her fellow art students from around the world and learning all about the Paris art world, Jeannette couldn’t help but aspire for better art instruction.

Jeannette gets her big break when she makes the acquaintance of Carolus-Duran through   a wealthy friend of the family who is having her portrait done. Duran invites Jeannette for a studio visit at 58 rue Notre Dame des Champs. When Jeannette and Effie arrive at his address, they quickly realize what a celebrity painter he is. There are three carriages at the curb and a servant to greet the guests. Effie gushes: “Why, it’s as elegant as a hotel lobby or a fashion house!”

A photo of Carolu-Duran playing the organ in his art studio (1885). From the image gallery at the American Archives of Art. Keenum gets it right when she describes the studio as being "strewn with thick Persian rugs and hung with tapestries and pictures."

A photo of Carolus-Duran playing the organ in his art studio (1885). From the digital image gallery at the American Archives of Art called “Photographs of Artists in their Paris Studios (1880-1890).” Keenum gets it right when she describes the studio as being “strewn with thick Persian rugs and hung with tapestries and pictures.”

rue Notre Dame des Champs, a narrow winding road through Montparnasse which earned its title as "the royal road of painting" because of all the famous French artists who lived there, including Bouguereau,  Courbet and Carolus-Duran.

Rue Notre Dame des Champs, a narrow winding road through Montparnasse which earned the title “the royal road of painting” because of all the famous French artists who lived there, including Bouguereau, Courbet and Carolus-Duran.

Carolus-Duran invites Jeannette to join his women’s painting classes at 11 Passage Stanislaus in Montparnasse. Passage Stanislaus is now known as rue Jules Chaplain, a small street just off of rue Notre Dame des Champs.

Rue Jules Chaplain, once Passage Stanislaus and the home of Carolus-Duran's atelier for women.

Rue Jules Chaplain, once Passage Stanislaus and the home of Carolus-Duran’s atelier for women.

Jeannete struggles to find the extra money to enroll in Carolus-Duran’s classes, but once she does, she gets to observe one of the true masters of the art. One of my favorite scenes in the book is in Chapter 30, when Carolus-Duran pulls Jeannette right up next to him to demonstrate the essence of portrait painting:

Study where the light falls and where the shadows lie. We commence by indicating the darkest masses. . . .

Either way, what is most important now is to find the demi-teinte generale. Half close your eyes, mademoiselle; regard the model.

It’s enough to make you want to find a model and set up and easel right nowisn’t it?

Jeannette is in the perfect place and time to witness art history. She meets a young John Singer Sargent, a fellow student in Carolus-Duran’s men’s atelier who would have been only 23 years old at the time. Jeannette and her classmates celebrate when Sargent’s portrait of Carolus-Duran wins an Honorable Mention at the Paris Salon of 1879.

John Singer Sargent's portrait of Carolus- Duran (1879), Clark Art Institute, Williamston, Massachusetts. When Jeanette meets JOhn Singer Sargent at a garden party, she says: "I hear your portrait of Carolus is wonderful."

John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Carolus- Duran (1879), Clark Art Institute, Williamston, Massachusetts. When Jeanette meets John Singer Sargent at a garden party, she says: “I hear your portrait of Carolus is wonderful.”

There are plenty of other moments in art history that Jeannette gets to be a part of, including the Fourth Impressionist Exhibit of 1879, where she sees and critiques Mary Cassatt’s Little Girl in a Blue Arm Chair (1878):

That grumpy little girl sprawled on the aqua-blue chair – well, she’s vivid, but all that other aqua furniture climbing to the ceiling, . . . it’s hideous!

Don’t blame Jeannette. Most of the world wasn’t yet ready for the Impressionists either.

Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878), National Museum of Art.

Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878), National Museum of Art.

It is an incredible time in the history of art, and Jeannette is it the middle of it all. What a wonderful way for Katherine Keenum to honor the memory of her great-grandmother, who really did have a chance to be a part of history. In ways we can only imagine.

Where the Light Falls by Katherine Keenum: Highly recommended.

Where the Light Falls Literary Tour: As created by The American Girls Art Club in Paris.

On Sisley’s Trail Outside Paris

The Bridge at Moret, Alred Sisley (1893), Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The Bridge at Moret, Alfred Sisley (1893), Musée d’Orsay, Paris

On a recent trip to my neighborhood dry cleaners, I spotted this picture on a calendar thumbtacked to the wall. I snuck behind the desk to see it up close, and sure enough, it was a Sisley set in Moret. “I’ve been there!” (I kind of shrieked – the dry cleaning lady smiled indulgently.)

Moret-sur-Loing is one of the art villages and colonies I visited outside of Paris. Last year, I took two separate trip to the villages near the Fountainbleu Forest, including Barbizon, Grez, Moret-sur-Loing and Thomery. They’re all about an hour’s drive from Paris, and they make for a wonderful artsy day or weekend trip. I’ve previously written about visiting the historic art colony of Grez-sur-Loing here, and my tour of Rosa Bonheur’s Studio in Thomery here.

Moret-sur-Loing was the home of the Impressionist painter Alfred Sisley the last ten years before his death in 1899. Sisley also lived in the nearby town of Veneux-les-Sablons from 1883 to 1889. Walking through these towns is like stepping into a Sisley painting. Here is a Google Map of the various Sisley sightseeing locations in and near Moret and les Sablons.

Sisley’s backstory is interesting. He was from a wealthy British family and moved to Paris to study art in the 1860s. He took classes at the at the Académie Suisse, where he met Monet, Renoir and Bazille. They would become good friends and before long, they would develop their bold new Impressionist style. Sisley was able to rely on his family’s wealth to subsidize his art career until his father lost his fortune in the Franco-Prussian War. After that, Sisley became another starving artist just trying to get by.

After living in the Batignolles neighborhood of Paris through the 1860s and 70s, Sisley retreated to the village of Moret, where he lived a quiet painterly life with his common-law wife Eugénie (Marie) Lesouezec (they would not legally marry until 1897) and two children. Sisley died of throat cancer in 1899, but not before creating over 900 paintings, many of which depicted landscapes around the village of Moret.

Sisley’s paintings did not sell well during his lifetime. We now know that Sisley sold many of his paintings to local Moret townspeople at bargain prices just to pay the rent. Now, of course, a Sisley would sell in the millions.

This has all led to very curious consequences. According to this article from The Guardian, experts believe that locals in Moret are hoarding Sisley paintings that their ancestors may have purchased or bartered for many years ago. They’re hiding the pieces in attics or bank vaults because they’re afraid they will owe exorbitant inheritance taxes. It is possible that there are over 500 original Sisley paintings that have yet to be identified and authenticated. This in turn creates a ripe environment for forgery and art fraud: “Voila! Quelle suprise! An unknown Sisley in the attic!”

How fun to wander through the streets and pathways of Moret, to see the same sites that Sisley did over 125 years ago, and wonder what treasures might hidden in the attics and cellars of the longtime residents of this village.

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The bridge at Moret-sur-Loing on a gray day in 2011.

The bridge at Moret-sur-Loing on a gray day in 2011.

Les Amis d'Alfred Sisley: the Friends of Alfred Sisley, an art association that offers tourist information about Sisley. 24 rue Grande, Moret-sur-Loing.

Les Amis d’Alfred Sisley: the Friends of Alfred Sisley, an art association that offers tourist information about Sisley.
24 rue Grande, Moret-sur-Loing.

Just a mile from Moret along the Loing River, where the Loing meets the Seine, is the town of Veneux-les-Sablons. Sisley lived here from 1883-1889 and painted many scenes along down by the river. If you’re persistent, you can find some of the scenes for yourself, marked by a sign and a reproduction of his work. I marked them on this Google Map.

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The sign along the Seine that indicates where Sisley painted Le Village De Champagne au voucher du Soleil (1885)

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The light might have gotten pretty dim in this photo, but you can still make out the town of Champagne-sur-Seine across the river, much like it was in Sisley’s painting.

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The path along the Seine as painted in “Les Petits Prés au Printemps – By (1880)

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The sign indicating where Sisley painted “Les Petits Prés au Printemps – By” (1880)

These signs might be hard to find without GPS. They're along a small little pathway called Chemin des Roches Courteuax that runs along the Seine.

The signs might be hard to find without GPS. They’re along a small little pathway called Chemin des Roches Courteuax that runs along the Seine.

One final picture, a portrait of Sisley and his future wife Marie in 1868, a perfectly bourgeois couple who had not yet lost their family fortune in the Franco-Prussian War.

Renoir, Alfred Sisley and His Wife (1868)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and His Wife (1868), Wallraf-Richardz Museum, Cologne, Germany

In the Conservatory with Madame Bartholomé

Albert Bartholomé, Dans la serre (1881), a portrait of his first wife Prospérie

Albert Bartholomé, Dans la serre (1881), a portrait of his first wife Prospérie. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on loan to the Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity exhibit currently at the Art Institute of Chicago.

This painting, called Dans la Serre (In the Conservatory) is getting a lot of well-deserved attention in the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Exhibit currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago (June-September 22, 2013).

In spite of the snippy things the New York Times had to say about it (“wide miss” and “cloying”), in my experience, this painting draws some of the biggest crowds at the exhibit, from Paris to Chicago. Behind it lies a tragic but fascinating story.

Albert Bartholomé (1848-1928) painted this portrait of his first wife Prospérie de Fleury (the daughter of the Marquis de Fleury) in 1881. She posed in a fashionable  dress in the conservatory of their home, which was located at 8 rue Bayard in Paris.

 

The dress of Prospérie Bartholomé, Musée d'Orsay

The dress of Prospérie Bartholomé, Musée d’Orsay.

 

 

 

The painting is large and captivating, but when exhibited right next to the very dress that Propérie (“Périe”) wore while she posed, it’s a show stopper. The detailing of the dress is as remarkable as its petite size. Seriously, I think I could have worn that dress in sixth grade.

 

 

 

The setting of Dans Le Serre reflects the couple’s wealth and standing. The garden in the background reminds me of the beautiful gardens of the Musée Nissim de Camondo near Parc Monceau in Paris, another home of great wealth and history (a home I like to call the “Downton Abbey of Paris.”)

Backyard gardens of the Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris.

Backyard gardens of the Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris.

The Bartholomé home wasn’t in the fashionable Parc Monceau neighborhood, but it was located on an equally beautiful block in the “Golden Triangle” of the 8th arrondissement between the Seine and the Place de François 1er. This is what their block looked like back then:

Place François 1er before 1909, source: wikipedia.

Place François 1er before 1909, source: wikipedia.

Fontaine de la Place François 1er, Paris. Source: wikipedia

Fontaine de la Place François 1er, Paris. Source: wikipedia

 

 

 

And here is the Place de François de 1er now, including the beautiful fountain you might recognize from the opening montage in Midnight in ParisThe Google Map Street View will give you a good glimpse of the structure that stands at 8 rue Bayard today.

 

 

 

 

 

According to the Musée d’Orsay, the Bartholomés enjoyed hosting salons for their artistic circle of friends (including Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt and Jacques-Emile Blanche) with free-ranging intellectual discussions about music, painting and books.

Two years after he painted Périe’s portrait in Dans le Serre, Bartholomé drew a pastel portrait showing her reading on the couch in front of a bookshelf. Clearly, their home was full of books. Périe is dressed in another fashionable dress, this one with black ruffles and resembling some of the other fashions in the Impressionism and Fashion exhibit, particularly Manet’s Parisienne. She seems to be wearing the same gold bracelet that she did in Dans le Serre.

Albert Bartholomé, The Artist’s Wife, Reading, pastel and charcoal (1883), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection.

Two years later, Albert and Périe became the subject of a joint portrait by Edgar Degas, a painting started in 1885 called The Conversation. Once again, Périe’s outfit (in which her bustle resembles the tail plume of a turkey) seems to be the focus of the composition.

Edgar Degas, The Conversation (1885-1895), Yale University Art Gallery, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.

Edgar Degas, The Conversation (1885-1895), Yale University Art Gallery, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. Image: Yale Art Gallery e-catalogue.

Unfortunately, Prospérie was in poor health and would die in 1887, just two years after they posed for the Degas painting. Bartholomé was so overwhelmed with grief that he preserved the dress that Périe wore in the Dans le Serre. I’m not sure how it became the property of the Charles and André Bailly Gallery in Paris, but it was subsequently gifted to the Musée d’Orsay in 1991.

As if the Bartholomé story wasn’t sad enough, Périe’s death caused Albert to give up painting altogether. On the advice of his friend Edgar Degas, he took up sculpting instead. Maybe the highly physical act of molding large-scale plaster and bronze was more cathartic than painting with a brush.

His first sculpture was for his wife’s tomb in front of a church in Bouillant, France, near Crépy en Valois. Not only did Bartholomé express his own raw grief, he also captured his young wife’s likeness. She has the same delicately pointed nose that she does in the painting Dans la Serre.

Bartholomé sculpure on his first wife's tomb in Bouillant, France.

Bartholomé’s sculpture for his first wife’s tomb in Bouillant, France. Image: Parismyope.blogspot.com.

From that point on, Bartholomé’s entire oeuvre consisted of grief sculptures. He is probably best known for his Monument aux Morts at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (1888-1889), which is heart wrenchingly sad.

Albert Bartholomé, Monuement aux Mortsu cimetière du Père Lachaise (1889-1899). Image: parismyope.blogspot. com.

Albert Bartholomé, Monuement aux Morts du cimetière du Père Lachaise (1889-1899). Image: parismyope.blogspot. com.

Despite Bartholomé’s deep and long-lasting grief, he did manage to remarry in 1901. I wish I knew the whole story, but all I can find is that his second wife Florence Letessier (18xx-1959) had been a model before their marriage, so presumably that’s how they met. Bartholomé would have been in his 50s at the time of his second marriage but Florence was much younger.

Bartholomé sculpted Florence in 1909, but it doesn’t look as though her youth and serenity captured his imagination as much as the memory of his first wife. Florence’s face looks full and healthy but her expression and posture are utterly bland.

Albert Bartholomé, Bust, Madame de Bartholomé, Née Florence Letessier, Second Spouse of the Artist (1909). Image:http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/joconde

Albert Bartholomé, Bust, Madame de Bartholomé, Née Florence Letessier, Second Spouse of the Artist (1909), Musée d’Orsay. Image: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/joconde

Sometime after their marriage, Bartholomé and Florence moved to 1 rue Raffet in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, where he would have a sculpting studio right next door to their home. The home and studio are still standing, as you can see from Google Maps Street View. Today, the studio at 1 bis rue Raffet rents out separately from the apartment building next door.

On a side note, Bartholomé’s art studio on rue Raffet became part of a huge art controversy in the 1950s. Apparently, Degas allowed his good friend Bartholomé to make plaster casts of some of his sculptures for Bartholomé’s private collection, including a plaster cast of Little Dancer, Age 14. Florence inherited the plaster casts in upon Albert’s death in 1928, but they didn’t go on the art market until she was placed in an asylum in the 1950’s, creating a big controversy.

In any event, you shouldn’t miss the chance to go see Bartholomé’s portrait of his wife Périe in Dans le Serre at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity Exhibit. Just look into Périe’s eyes, and you can almost imagine their sad story. It’s anything but a wide miss.