Non-fiction books often take me a while to read and Sue Roe’s The Private Lives of the Impressionists is no exception; not however, because it’s difficult to read or boring, but simply because I decided to read it slowly. The Impressionists were a mixed bunch, including Manet, Monet, Pissarro, CÃ©zanne, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Caillebotte. I feel I got to know some of them more than others and have only just skimmed the surface of their lives, which is understandable in a book covering so many people.
The Private Lives of the Impressionists tells how the early leaders of the group met when students in the studios of Paris. There was Monet, from an affluent family background originally from Normandy, Pissarro a Portuguese Jew from a very different background, born in the Dutch West Indies, CÃ©zanne, a strange and intense student from Aix-en-Provence. The group widened with the addition of Renoir, from a working family (his father was a tailor from Limoges), Sisley the son of an English merchant and a Frenchwoman, and Bazille the son of a wealthy Montpellier wine-grower. They rebelled against the Salon and were pillaried and criticised for their work. They struggled to make a living, although now their paintings sell for millions.
Manet, whose father was a judge and mother the god-daughter of the King of Sweden, was not really a part of their group , although over the years he supported them but never exhibited at the Impressionists exhibitions. To say that Manet was a complex character is an understatement and I’m going to read a biography devoted to him alone at some point. I’d also like to know more about Pissarro, Berthe Morisot and Renoir in particular.
This book follows their lives and loves and how their art developed over 26 years between 1860 when they first met and the introduction of their work to America in 1886. The Epilogue summarised what happened to each artist as the end of the century approached and the Paris art scene changed completely.
I now feel rather sad to have come to the end but there is a bibliography, essential for non-fiction books in my view, listing other books on the artists. If I’m being picky I’d criticise the bibliography because it’s arranged a-z by author – I’d prefer it to be arranged the individual artists. I’d also have liked more illustrations, but there are plenty of books on Impressionism. I’d also love to travel the world to see their paintings – in London, Paris, and the US – well maybe I’ll manage the London galleries.
These are some of my favourite paintings, some of which are in this book.