Friday, June 8, 2007

Man behind the Vision

This one goes out to Bruce who let me wax pathetic over a Renoir and a Degas at the Nelson-Atkins Gallery tonight.
Susan Vreeland has made a splash with her historical fiction novels revolving around masterpieces of the art world. She and Tracy Chevalier have almost created a cottage industry. The latest entry in the "story behind the painting" subgenre of literary historical fiction is Luncheon of the Boating Party. In prose as thoughtful as every one of Renoir's brush strokes, Vreeland imagines the lives behind each figure in the artist's most famous work. From conception to completion, readers learn who all the models are, how they came together, their significance to Renoir and how they form a tight bond that cannot last outside the painting's frame. Full of exquisite detail and descriptions, readers will be flipping back to carefully study the small replica of the painting that accompanies the book. Up until the last third, readers will wonder who is the beguiling woman holding the dog in the lower left corner of the painting? All of the painting's figures are real people the author brings to life on the canvas, even the mysterious quatorzieme is identified. Very suitable for a book group or readers who enjoyed Girl with a Pearl Earring.

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