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.
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. 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 and often suffered the indignities of destitution. 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.
Behind every great artist stands a woman driving him to inspiration, aspiration, and desperation, according to Cowell (Marrying Mozart), who bases her latest novel about an artist and his muse on the life of Claude Monet. Beautiful bourgeoise Camille Doncieux leaves her family and fianc for Monet, whom Cowell depicts early on as a rebellious young man trying to capture in his paintings fleeting moments of color and light before he matures into the troubled genius whose talent exceeds his income. In an art world resistant to change, Camille remains Monet's great love as he and fellow unknowns Renoir, Pissarro, and Bazille struggle to make ends meet, but, eventually, parenthood, financial pressure, long separations, career frustrations, and romantic distractions take their toll, and even after Monet finally achieves commercial success, the couple still faces considerable difficulty. While glimpses of great men at work make absorbing reading, it's Camille who gives this story its heart. A convincing narrative about how masterpieces are created and a detailed portrait of a complex couple, Cowell's novel suggests that a fabulous, if flawed, love is the source of both the beauty and sadness of Monet's art.