Friday, May 25, 2012

Quick Review

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The greatest book ever written by one great artist who happens to be the son of another. A unique book. I've now read the book twice, first as a biography of the most exuberant and humane of the great Impressionists, and then again as a nearly perfect memoir of an equally great artist's coming of age in the shadow of a famous father.

I can't think of another book so suffused with genuine affection and yet without so much as a sentimental phrase, or a misjudged scene. Renoir fils, the master of French cinema, describes the father he saw, particularly the artist in old age, his brushes tied to his crippled hands, the father the son came to know a bit better only when the son came home to recover from war. It is a portrait of remarkable tenderness, but also careful and objective, not just about family, but art, about what can and can not, what should be and often isn't said.

And more than anything, this is a book about women: the women in both their lives, the women who were so vital to them both, and to their art. There wasn't another painter since the Renaissance to whom women were more inspiring, more necessary, more beautiful. This was the chiefest gift from father to son, this appreciation and recognition of the necessity of women. And then there is country cousin, a simple girl who posed for the painter so often and so famously, not his wife or his son's mother, but the woman who really raised Jean, the woman so necessary to them all, their beloved Gabrielle. Like Colette's mother, Sido, this good woman's spirit and image linger in the mind long after the book has been read.

This book, like the films of Jean Renoir, I now number among the happiest discoveries of the middle of my life. I know of no better book on what it means to be an artist, and a son.

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