Saturday, June 19, 2010

Claude and Camille, Celia, and Sarah

I've been on a reading frenzy since school got out. The most recent books have been about artists or writers, or both. I'm a huge fan of novelized biographies and have enjoyed a number of such books about artists, the most recent being Stephanie Cowell's book Claude and Camille about Claude Monet as a young man trying to break into the world of art and the great love of his life, Camille. What an amazing story! The kind where you fall into it and don't get out of it for days, the kind you don't want to end, the kind you dream about and get up at 5 o'clock in the morning because you can't stop thinking and dreaming about it. I've long been a fan of the Impressionists, and have countless prints of their work that even as I write this decorate the walls of my home. My favorite, though, is a painting my niece did of Camille (left), as it turns out, after Monet's now famous portrayal of his eventual wife. Once done with the book, I spent hours looking up the paintings described in it and found myself wishing I'd known this story when I saw many of the originals in Paris or even in Boston. To that end, I may just find myself standing in front of some of them tomorrow as it's Community Day (free admission!) at Boston's MFA.

Meanwhile, I dove back into life-stories of artists I've admired and read Sandpiper, the biography of Celia Thaxter, written by her granddaughter. What a loving and poignant portrait of one of New England's most beloved poets! You may remember that my sisters, mother, and I visited her garden last summer out on Appledore Island off the coast of Porstmouth, NH. I may just have to find my way back there this summer having now read her story. I had forgotten that she was an artist as well as a writer and that she actually made more money with her painting than her writing.

Following hard on the heels of Celia's story, I read Master Smart Woman, a Portrait of Sarah Orne Jewett, another New England writer from the same era. She was born in South Berwick, ME a town I can drive through on my way north to see my parents if I chose to avoid the Maine turnpike (which I often do). Another towering figure in the world of women writers, Jewett painted New England as she saw and loved it with words that are still true today. I suspect I'll be making a visit to her home in the weeks to come as well. All this reading about writers and artists makes me hunger for my own experience as an artist, although many (most) did not live lives of leisure. In some respects it's a wonder we have any books or paintings to enjoy. Passion for what you're doing must be paramount...

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