Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Private Lives of the Impressionists

Heidenkind's Art History Challenge ends this week, and I am finishing up the last two books that I selected for the challenge. This morning I finished Sue Roe's The Private Lives of the Impressionists, which I have been trying to read for several months. It's not that Roe's book is boring or bothersome - but it wasn't compelling enough for me to read in a single sitting. Ironically, I wonder if the book wasn't amazingly compelling because I'm an art historian. I wasn't waiting on edge, wondering what was going to happen to the Impressionists, because more-or-less I already knew.

The book is dedicated to the personal and professional lives of several Impressionist artists: Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Morisot, and Cassatt. Roe's writing style is very informed, but also lively and engaging. I thought that she gave fairly equal treatment to all of the artists mentioned, with the exception of Alfred Sisley, who didn't receive a lot of discussion (which I would expect, since he's not very well-known).

One of my favorite things that I learned from the book was that Degas traveled to New Orleans. He delayed his return to Paris for three months so that he could paint this picture of a cotton office:

Degas, Cotton Merchants in New Orleans, 1873

I think this might be my new favorite work by Degas. It's fun and interesting subject matter, and I love the white, fluffy cotton.

Overall, Roe's book was pretty good. It's not the most compelling thing that I have ever read, but it was interesting to learn more about the personal lives of the Impressionists. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the Impressionists, but I do think it would be easier for the reader to be somewhat informed about Impressionism before reading Roe's book.

Have you read The Private Lives of the Impressionists? Did you like it?