My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"In our life there is a single color, as on an artist's palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love."~Marc Chagall
This was my first Susan Vreeland, and I'm intrigued enough to read another--Vreeland writes beautifully about paintings and scenery and the hunger for art and artistic expression. The book is conceived as a "trail of the history of art. ... The visible reality expressed through the handling of light and color of impressionism-Pissaro-moved into the solid geometric shapes of postimpressionisn-Cezanne-to the modernism of distortion and cubism-Picasso-and finally to the postmodernism of the expression of the invisible personal reality of dreams. That's Chagall." The flaw is that this history of art is told by characters created to tell that story, who never quite come alive enough to tell their own.
Young Lisette was raised in an orphanage in post-WWI Paris, and she has an eye for art. She marries Andre, a young frame maker, and expects to find a job in a gallery--even cleaning the walls would do. But she and Andre are called to the countryside to take care of Andre's grandfather, Pascal, in his old age. From soirées and cafés to bedpans and roosters--Lisette's life is turned upside down! But Pascal used to be a paint salesman in Paris, a step up from his teenage job as a miner of ochre for paint and dyes in the small commune of Roussillon, and in addition to the stories of paint and artists, he has beautiful paintings from the greats--Cezanne, Pisarro, Picasso--that they can look at and comprehend together. Then, WWII starts, Andre and their friend Maxime enlist, and the rest of the plot ensues. Chagall comes into the story, hiding in a small village before escaping from the Nazis to the United States.
As I said, Vreeland writes beautifully, especially when she is writing about the heart of art and not art criticism and history; she shows what is behind all that jargon. But Lisette does not change, though more than ten years (and the war!) pass; it's as if by being in the countryside she's frozen in time at twenty, though she's thirty-one at the end. Or perhaps it's just that she exists, like her list, like the paintings, as a hook on which to hang some beautiful art.
Despite the flaws, it's a good book--it does fulfill the promise of its Chagall epigraph, coloring the pages with love, and I recommend it to anyone that has an interest in art. (I received an e-galley for review from the publisher and Netgalley.)
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