Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Art & Artists: Fiction

The next Genre Reading Group meeting will be on Tuesday, April 28 at 6:30pm and the topic up for discussion is true crime.  Our most recent meeting topic was novels about art and artists of all kinds. 

We love it when newspaper comics are SO on target!

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
( Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist, has a perfectly ordered life--solitary, perhaps, but full of devotion to his profession and the painting hobby he loves. This order is destroyed when the renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes Marlow's patient.

When Oliver refuses to talk or cooperate, Marlow finds himself going beyond his own legal and ethical boundaries to understand the secret that torments this silent genius, a journey that will lead him into the lives of the women closest to Robert Oliver and toward a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism.

Moving from American museums to the coast of Normandy, from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth, from young love to last love, The Swan Thieves is a story of obsession, the losses of history, and the power of art to preserve human hope.

( As The Devil Wears Prada demystified the world of high fashion, this funny and insightful debut novel dishes the crazy and captivating Manhattan art scene. When painter Jeffrey Finelli is run over by a cab, the art world clamors for the instantly in-demand work by the late “emerging artist”—especially an enormous painting called Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him.

Gallery receptionist and aspiring artist Mia McMurray finds herself at the center of the hype. She is an amused witness as a Birkin-toting collector, a well-muscled Irish artist, a real estate baron, and Lulu herself, the artists niece and muse, battle over the brand-new masterpiece. In the midst of the madness, Mia finds her own creative expression and artistic identity, not to mention love.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
( On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

Claire makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer. Desperate to improve her situation, she lets herself be lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting — one of the Degas masterpieces stolen from the Gardner Museum — in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when the long-missing Degas painting — the one that had been hanging for one hundred years at the Gardner — is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.

Claire’s search for the truth about the painting’s origins leads her into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life. B. A. Shapiro’s razor-sharp writing and rich plot twists make The Art Forger an absorbing literary thriller that treats us to three centuries of forgers, art thieves, and obsessive collectors. it’s a dazzling novel about seeing — and not seeing — the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
( In this richly imagined fiction, Harriet Scott Chessman entices us into the world of Mary Cassatt's early Impressionistpaintings. Chessman's gift for storytelling mingles with her extraordinary understanding of these beautiful and significant works of art. This literary tour de force rises out of a sustained inquiry into art's relation to the ragged world of desire and mortality.

The story is told in the absorbing and lyrical voice of Mary Cassatt's sister Lydia, as she poses for five of her sister's most unusual paintings (reproduced in this edition). Ill with Bright's disease and conscious of her approaching death, Lydia contemplates her world with courage, openness, and passion. As she addresses and comes to accept her own position as her sister's model, she asks stirring questions about love and art's capacity to remember.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper illuminates Cassatt's brilliant paintings even as it creates a compelling portrait of the brave and memorable model who inhabits them with such grace, and the times in which they both lived.

Marie, Dancing by Carolyn Meyer
( Marie van Goethem, a fourteen-year-old ballet dancer in the famed Paris Opera, has led a life of hardship and poverty. For her, dancing is the only joy to counter the pain inflicted by hunger, her mother's drinking, and her selfish older sister. But when famed artist Edgar Degas demands Marie's presence in his studio, it appears that her life will be transformed: He will pay her to pose for a new sculpture, and he promises to make her a star. As Marie patiently stands before Mr. Degas each week, she dreams about supporting her family without being corrupted like most young dancers. She dreams about a life as a ballerina on the stage of the Opera. And she dreams about being with her true love. In this deeply moving, historically based account, Carolyn Meyer examines the life of the model for Edgar Degas's most famous sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Includes an author's note.

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D’Art by Christopher Moore
( It is the color of the Virgin Mary's cloak, a dazzling pigment desired by artists, an exquisite hue infused with danger, adventure, and perhaps even the supernatural. It is... Sacre Bleu.
In July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers attempt to take his own life... and then walk a mile to a doctor's house for help? Who was the crooked little "color man" Vincent had claimed was stalking him across France? And why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue?

These are just a few of the questions confronting Vincent's friends — baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec — who vow to discover the truth about van Gogh's untimely death. Their quest will lead them on a surreal odyssey and brothel-crawl deep into the art world of late nineteenth-century Paris.

Oh la la, quelle surprise, and zut alors! A delectable confection of intrigue, passion, and art history — with cancan girls, baguettes, and fine French cognac thrown in for good measure — Sacre Bleu is another masterpiece of wit and wonder from the one, the only, ChristopherMoore.

( A sweeping romance set at a bohemian artist colony on the picturesque coasts of pre-war England, Summer in February is based on the true story of painter Sir Alfred Munnings (Dominic Cooper, Mamma Mia!, My Week with Marilyn) and his blue-blood best friend Gilbert (Dan Stevens, "Downton Abbey"). Born into a working-class family, Munnings rises to become one of the premiere British artists of his time, winning the affection of aristocratic beauty Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning, Sleeping Beauty). But when Gilbert falls for Florence as well, a love triangle emerges with tragic consequences. (c) Tribeca

Helvetica (DVD)
( In 2005 a number of provocative, award-winning ads appeared that touted the Helvetica font; Gary Hustwit explores the subject protractedly with his feature-length essay film Helvetica. The documentary, produced in 2007 (and thus commemorating the typeface's 50th anniversary), uses the omnipresent font as a lens through which it examines contemporary visual culture and how typeface is used, aesthetically, spatially, and culturally, to impart shape and character to urban environments. Hustwit then segues into a discussion with a number of acclaimed designers about their work, their creative visions and processes, and the aesthetic reasoning behind various decisions regarding font. Hustwit interviews over 20 design experts in the film, including Michael C. Place, Paula Scher, Matthew Carter, and David Carson. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

( The Picture of Dorian Gray is a familiar story of greed, sin, and arrogance. A young man, infatuated with his own handsomeness and youth as depicted in a perfect portrait, makes a bargain he will come to regret. No one can save him from his appetite for pleasure and his awful fate--not the man who idolizes him, not the woman who loves him, and not even himself!

Published in 1890, The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde's only novel. At first the subject of intense controversy, it has endured as a classic for years. A cautionary tale of innocence sacrificed for the sake of vice, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic whose lessons are still relevant today.

Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe
( The Oval Portrait is a short horror story written by Edgar Allan Poe and first published in 1842. Our protagonist takes refuge in an abandoned castle and discovers a room with a series of paintings accompanied by a small book describing them. His attention is attracted by an oval portrait depicting a young woman of rare beauty. The book tells of the artist falling in love with the girl and marrying her. It was not soon after that the girl realized her husband was already married to his art. One day the painter decides to paint his wife and in doing so with such fervor, he didn't notice that as the days passed she became more and more saddened. When the portrait was finished he was shocked to discover that the painting of his wife was much, much more than life-like.

( This classic novel of Bohemian life by Henry Murger is based on a series of magazine sketches later made into a successful play. The novel is a series of loosely united chapters beginning with the first meeting of the four main characters ("Gustave Colline, the great philosopher, Marcel, the great painter, Schaunard, the great musician, and Rodolphe, the great poet" [123]) and ending with their departure from Bohemia in favor of bourgeois life. Jules Janin called the book "a first chapter in the code of youth" (qtd. in Maurice 111).

His purpose in telling the story, he said, was to glorify and legitimize Bohemia. "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme is only a series of social studies, the heros of which belong to a class badly-judged until now, whose greatest crime is lack of order, and who can even plead in excuse that this very lack of order is a necessity of the life they lead" (36), wrote Murger at the end of the first chapter.

( The third film from pop-music-obsessed director Baz Luhrmann tweaks the conventions of the musical genre by mixing a period romance with anachronistic dialogue and songs in the style of his previous Romeo+Juliet (1996). Ewan McGregor stars as Christian, who leaves behind his bourgeois father during the French belle époque of the late 1890s to seek his fortunes in the bohemian underworld of Montmartre, Paris. Christian meets the absinthe- and alcohol-addicted artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), who introduces him to a world of sex, drugs, music, theater, and the scandalous dance known as the cancan, all at the Moulin Rouge, a decadent dance hall, brothel, and theater that's the brainchild of Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent). Christian also meets and falls into a tragically doomed romance with the courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman), who becomes the star of the play he's writing, which parallels the couple's romance and utilizes rock music from a century later, including songs by Nirvana, Madonna, the Beatles, and Queen, among others. Loosely based on the opera Orpheus in the Underworld, Moulin Rouge was shown in competition at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. ~ Karl Williams, Rovi

The Great Man by Kate Christensen
( From the acclaimed author of TheEpicure's Lament, a novel of literary rivalry in which two competing biographers collide in their quest for the truth about a great artist.
Oscar Feldman, the "Great Man," was a New York city painter of the heroic generation of the forties and fifties. But instead of the abstract canvases of the Pollocks and Rothkos, he stubbornly hewed to painting one subject — the female nude. When he died in 2001, he left behind a wife, Abigail, an autistic son, and a sister, Maxine, herself a notable abstract painter — all duly noted in the New York Times obituary.

What no one knows is that Oscar Feldman led an entirely separate life in Brooklyn with his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, and their twin daughters. As the incorrigibly bohemian Teddy puts it, "He couldn't live without a woman around. It was like water to a plant for him." Now two rival biographers, book contracts in hand, are circling around Feldman's life story, and each of these three women — Abigail, Maxine, and Teddy — will have a chance to tell the truth as they experienced it.
The Great Man is a scintillating comedy of life among the avant-garde — of the untidy truths, needy egos, and jostlings for position behind the glossy facade of artistic greatness. Not a pretty picture — but a provocative and entertaining one that incarnates the take-no-prisoners satirical spirit of Dawn Powell and Mary McCarthy.

Impromptu (DVD)
( Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin, better known in the literary world as George Sand, not only took a man's name, but trotted around wearing pants and smoking cigars in public. No great shakes today, but in the 1800s she was perhaps the most famous (or infamous) woman in the world. One of the first original celebrities, aside from her garb and literary output, she was known to inspire many duels and broken hearts among other famous hedonist artists. One character describes her in Impromptu, as "that graveyard." The film engages in a sexual roundelay among Sand's (Judy Davis) many friends -- Eugene Delacroix (Ralph Brown), Alfred DeMusset (Mandy Patinkin), Franz Liszt (Julian Sands), and Frederick Chopin (Hugh Grant). The entire crew heads off to the summer estate of the Duke and Duchess d'Antan (Anton Rodgers and Emma Thompson), invited there by the culture-vulture hosts. Sand takes a bead on the sickly Chopin and spends her time throwing herself at him. Also on hand is Liszt's mistress Marie d'Agoult (Bernadette Peters) and Felicien Mallefille (Georges Corraface), Sand's recently jilted lover. Mallefille is jealous of any of the other guests who glance in Sand's direction and continually challenges them to duels. Marie, on the other hand, is enlisted by Sand to deliver a note to Chopin. But Marie, jealous of Sand, delivers the note substituting her name for Sand's. And as the weekend continues, the sexual merry-go-round continues at full tilt.

Now You See Her by Whitney Otto
( Kiki Shaw, a game show question writer, is about to turn forty. She doesn't mind that, except that she's also disappearing. Parts of her that were always there are vanishing, and no one seems to notice. As she contemplates this experience, Kiki makes certain discoveries about her life and those of the women closest to her. Perhaps they will all evanesce bit by bit, until they detect where they misplaced themselves and their once-promising lives.

Bellocq’s Ophelia: Poems by Natasha Trethewey
( In the early 1900s, E.J. Bellocq photographed prostitutes, which were first collected and published as Storyville Portraits. In Natasha Trethewey's stunning second collection, she creates the life of Ophelia in the image of one of Bellocq's subjects. Through Ophelia, a very white-skinned black woman living in a brothel, a sad and poignant story is told with beautiful precision and depth.

Pretty Baby (DVD)
( After making a series of acclaimed and controversial films in his native France, director Louis Malle made his American debut with this disturbing but visually beautiful story about Hattie (Susan Sarandon), a prostitute working in New Orleans' Storyville district at the turn of the century. When Hattie becomes pregnant, she opts to keep her baby and gives birth to a daughter named Violet, raising her in the brothel where she continues to work. Twelve years later, Violet (Brooke Shields) is old enough to attract the attentions of the brothel's customers, but emotionally has one foot in the adult world of her surroundings and the other in the naïveté of childhood. With Hattie's consent, Violet's virginity is auctioned off to the customers of the house; but for Violet, the pull between childhood and adulthood becomes most clear -- and most painful -- when she draws the affections of Bellocq (Keith Carradine), a photographer who has been working on a photo series about Storyville prostitutes. Violet's blend of childlike innocence and adult sensuality is profoundly attractive to him, but their relationship quickly becomes problematic, especially when Hattie leaves Violet behind to get married.

Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner
( In the City of Lights, at the dawn of a new age, begins an unforgettable story of great love, great art—and the most painful choices of the heart. With this fresh and vibrantly imagined portrait of the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas, readers are transported through the eyes of a young Parisian ballerina to an era of light and movement. An ambitious and enterprising farm girl, Alexandrie joins the prestigious Paris Opera ballet with hopes of securing not only her place in society but her family’s financial future. Her plan is soon derailed, however, when she falls in love with the enigmatic artist whose paintings of the offstage lives of the ballerinas scandalized society and revolutionized the art world. As Alexandrie is drawn deeper into Degas’s art and Paris’s secrets, will she risk everything for her dreams of love and of becoming the ballet’s star dancer?

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