Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Japanese Bridge at Giverny
INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR STEPHANIE COWELL
Let me welcome Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille, To read a my review, click here review of Claude and Camille.
1. From all the impressionists why did you choose Monet?
Well, actually I was equally in love with him and his best friend Frédéric Bazille, so for a time Frédéric was the lead. I live in new York City and had gone to see an art exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum called The Origins of Impressionism. They had gathered paintings from all over the world of the impressionists when they were just poor, struggling artists in Paris in the 1860s. There was one painting of a horse and cart by a rough seacoast which Monet had made early; he was born in Le Havre, by the coast. I think I wanted to know the young man who did that. But I was in love all the young artists: Cézanne, Renoir, Pissarro and so on. I was writing about all of them and Monet took center place after a time.
2. Is there any fact about him that you learned that you were surprised to find out?
Yes, I was very surprised to hear what a rough time Monet had when young, his poverty and constant disappointments. He could not afford to buy Giverny until he was fifty. It is amazing to look back and see that these now very loved artists were so rejected year after year!
3. You said that you visited the places were he lived-was there any place that was really special to you-why?
Well, Giverny of course, because that was where he finally got his dream. You feel him everywhere. But there is a very narrow street in Paris about one block long called the rue Visconti where he shared a studio with his friends for a time and I felt him there.
4. How did you start writing the book-did you start with reading about him, visiting Giverney and the museums in France-what was your writing process? How many times did you visit France-how long did you stay?
Oh this was my most back and forth book! So many sections and versions and they eventually came together as you see him. I saw the exhibition at the Met and scribbled down a note for the novel in one paragraph and tucked it away on my hard drive. Then after I had published Marrying Mozart (which grew out of my years of singing opera), my editor said she’d like another book about someone in the arts and I found the paragraph. If I detailed the writing process, you’d get a headache! It went through many drafts and lots got cut and lots got added. I was only in France for a week but I read about 60 books and studied paintings endlessly both in museums and in prints. It was not until the last draft that I decided to have little sections when he is older and living at Giverny, looking back on Camille whom he loved so much and lost so young – and to center the story on his relationship with her since he first saw her in a train station and on the growth of the young artists until they finally began to be recognized.
5. Do you have a favorite Monet painting? Why that one?
Oh I could not have one! I have so many. But if I could own two, I would pick the one I first saw made by the sea in Le Havre: The Point of the Héve at Low Tide and another one Church of Vétheuil in the Snow. This is his early period, before the Water Lilies. He probably never heard of a water lily then. Some of the peasants in the village of Giverny thought they were poisonous to the water!
6. You grew up amongst artists and would hear the stories of the impressionists as a child-how fascinating-did you have an artist that you enjoyed hearing about-did you ever take art classes yourself?
I did take art classes as a young child but I have no gift for art in my hands. Maybe I should have tried harder. I see as an artist: shade and shape and perspective. My parents talked a lot about artists and dragged me to museums. I remember mostly talks of Modigliani who came maybe 30-40 years after the impressionists. But there was painting, painting everywhere. At age 5 I went to see my mother teach at the Art Students’ League and saw my first nude model on a model stand. I was very alarmed!
7. Do you have a special place where you write-somewhere that helps the creativity flow?
I have a little writing cubicle in the vestibule of my NYC apartment, always very cluttered. When I print out drafts I sometimes read them on the sofa or go out to a museum or something to read them.
8. Had you spoken any French before embarking on this book?
I took French (badly) in high school and began to study it again for this book. I read it medium level and speak it very seldom. I am shy about it and I need more chances. I would love to study it again but I am learning Italian now, and there never seems to be enough hours in a day!
9. For me, when I read your book I could envision all his paintings-I saw the colors and could even almost see Monet-did you go and view all the paintings that you wrote about?
Thanks very much! I saw all the paintings in reproduction and many here in NYC. They have great exhibitions here, not only the Met Museum but many others. There’s also the Frick. I saw a special exhibition about Monet’s drawing in London called The Unknown Monet. The National Gallery there has some great works of his. I go to the Philadelphia Museum often. Also the D.C. National Gallery. I saw a lot of the water lily and garden paintings in the Musée Marmottan in Paris. I went to the Musée D’Orsay. The Marmottan has that that gorgeous small painting of Monet at 25 by a friend. Monet looks like Johnny Depp! He was NOT the old man with beard and pot belly on a Japanese bridge then. He was…wow! And so passionate.
Visit Stephanie's web page to see her other works which include, Marrying Mozart, Nicholas Cook and the Physician of London,and the Players, A Novel of the Young Shakespeare.