Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Book Review: Manet Paints Monet: A Summer in Argenteuil

Manet Paints Monet: A Summer in Argenteuil
Willibald Sauerlander

Esteemed German art historian, Willibald Sauerlander, an academic with a list of learned papers literally as long as one’s arm, has written a highly accessible book about a shared passage in the lives of two beloved French painters, Edouard Manet and Claude Monet. Having fought for the Paris Commune and the subsequent massacre of the Communards, Manet’s painting had taken a dark turn but next he was drawn to the bright “plein air” painting that was to become known as impressionism. The “plein air” painters had left their studios to paint outside capturing the ephemeral light and color of the natural world directly as they reveled in the moment. Manet was an established studio painter with a mature style, nonetheless, in 1874 he sought out the younger Claude Monet to learn a new way of painting by moving to the village where Monet lived, Argenteuil. There they painted side by side, even painting one another. Manet is celebrated as the painter who bridged realism and impressionism. This book is about the summer when that bridge touched the further shore.

Manet Paints Monet is a wonder of accessibility and concision. Sauerlander tells simple stories of the two painters and lets the paintings themselves reveal a magical moment in art history. Manet regarded Monet as the “Raphael of water.” Both men painted Monet’s little boat, his floating studio, where he made “plein air” paintings of the bridges, boats, and shoreline of the Seine River near Argenteuil. But Monet’s paintings were about water and sky and light and reflections whereas Manet’s subjects were of people enjoying this lovely setting. We become part of the creative moments when Manet reconciled his art with that of a younger master, and perhaps, exorcised his memories of the horrors he had endured only a few years before.

Manet Paints Monet is short, easily readable and accessible for young readers, yet focused and profound enough for any art buff immersed in the history of painting. The reader does receive a brief tour de force digression on the arcane subject of painters painting painters painting. This discussion places Manet’s painting, The Boat, which depicts Monet painting as he floats on the Seine, into that long enjoyable tradition.

This summer you can join Monet floating on his little boat or watch him from the shore like Manet. Manet Paints Monet is a sunny book full of sparkling delight.

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

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