My search for Monet’s great love Camille, a guest post by Stephanie Cowell. And a giveaway!

As promised, Stephanie Cowell‘s guest post!

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The grave was overgrown, the headstone worn and tumbled when you used to walk through the graveyard of the old church of Vétheuil in search of Monet’s muse and first wife Camille. For a hundred and twenty years, the remains of the beautiful woman who died young had been forgotten while her lover and husband, the man who painted her so often, had become the most beloved artist in the world.

Renoir Camille Monet reading

Renoir Camille Monet reading

It was not uncommon. Throughout the history of artists, the particulars of the women they painted have often been lost to time. Pictures of her hung in museums over the western world but most often they did not bear her name. It is supposed that Claude Monet, a very private man, destroyed any of her letters and her diaries when she died.

Camille-Léonie Doncieux was around eighteen when she met and fell in love with Claude Monet, leaving her fine home to live with the talented 25-year-old painter who could not sell his work. When she bore his child both her family and his disowned them.

People called her “La Monette.” Everyone was charmed by her. She was a ravishing creature, the friend said, full of kindness and grace. Phrases arise from the few letters and a contemporary diary which sketch their life. “Charming…she really is a good child…a fine comedienne… enchanting….witty…” and then, as Claude wrote sadly to a friend, “We have no heat and nothing to eat.”

She was so lovely! His painting of her in a rented green promenade dress won him his first great notice as an artist while Paris newspapers called her the Parisian Queen. If that was not enough to turn a young girl’s head!

Monet Camille Woman in Green Dress

Monet Camille Woman in Green Dress

Surely their years of struggle were hard on this girl who had been raised in a chaperoned, sheltered way. She and Claude lived a scattered life, hunted from house to house, fleeing in the middle of the night, unable to pay the rent. They lived mostly in struggle, and only occasionally in prosperity, until her early death at thirty-two. She left two young sons. She never heard of or saw the house and gardens at Giverny. They would come later in the artist’s life.

But, even if we have none of her letters or diaries, we have his many paintings of her. There was no other person he painted so often. And he kept a portrait of her in his bedroom all his life, which likely was not easy on his second wife. I suspect Claude never got over her early loss and, in his own way, searched for her all his life.

As a novelist, how do you create the character of a woman from perhaps twenty paintings and a handful of adjectives? With a lot of hope, studying the pictures and instinct. In the end I must say she created herself, for she grew on the pages of my novel CLAUDE & CAMILLE as much of a mystery to him as she would be to us.

The most complete study of her to date is by Ruth Butler in her book Hidden in the Shadow of the Master. Another study will be published late summer: Monet and His Muse: Camille Monet in the Artist’s Life by Mary Mathews Gedo. Neither was available to me when I was writing the novel, alas. The first is a fine study of the great artists’ model-wives and I look forward to the second.

Over a hundred and thirty years after Camille’s death, her much neglected grave has been restored. But who she really was is known to her friends, her famous lover, and is ours to wonder and imagine.

Monet Women in garden

Monet Women in garden

Giveaway rules: Leave a comment with the word “giveaway” before April 29, 2010 at midnight, EST. The free copy of Claude and Camille will only be shipped to the United States or Canada. Thank you for entering!

FTC disclosure: I received a free review copy of Claude and Camille.

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17 Comments to “My search for Monet’s great love Camille, a guest post by Stephanie Cowell. And a giveaway!”

  1. Maria says:

    Giveaway

    Can’t wait to read Claude and Camille!

  2. What a wonderful post. The little I know about Monet comes from a British miniseries on the Impressionists which starred Richard Armitage as Monet. That series however focused more on his relationship with his second wife. I would love to read this book so please enter m in the giveaway. Thanks Catherine and Stephanie.

  3. Marie Burton says:

    Don’t enter me, I’ve read and LOVED this novel. I also wrote a mini-post Searching for Camille post with a fun video, I was so inspired by the way Stephanie portrayed the love between Monet and Camille.
    It is nice to know that the grave has been restored so that many others can continue to be touched by her.

  4. Tammy Moore says:

    This looks fabulous! Monet is my mother’s favorite artist, and we were lucky enough to see many of his paintings when they came to the Kimball Art Museum in Texas. Thanks for the chance to win this giveaway!

  5. Anne Fescharek says:

    I have always loved that painting “Women in the Garden”. It makes me think of “La Belle Epoque” and all the great artists and authors of the time: “Cousine Bette”, “Gigi”, “The Last of Cherie”, and even Zola’s grim and gritty “Therese Raquin”.
    I hope to win this giveaway and read and appreciate this novel

  6. Anne Fescharek says:

    Oops! annfesATyahooDOTcom

  7. Please enter me in the giveaway! I love poking around in graveyards myself.

  8. Sue says:

    Giveaway
    I’m fascinated by Camille, her many images painted by Monet are so haunting. I’m looking forward to reading Claude and Camille.

  9. Rachel W. says:

    Giveaway! Thanks so much!

    Rachelhwallen@gmail.com

  10. Esme says:

    Please sign me up for the giveaway-Monet is my favorite artist-I have visited his home in Giverney and gone to every museum that I can that has his art.

  11. Marilyn Watson says:

    Please enter me in the giveaway for this Book! This is a lovely description of Camille and the Man who painted her so often! She remains a mystery but a very charming one.

  12. Clista says:

    Loved the post. I can repeat what Esme said. I have visited Monet’s home and grave in Giverney several times and viewed his art at soooo many museums. He is at the top of my list and I enjoy learning about his life and Camille. This giveaway inspires me to schedule another getaway to Paris! Thanks!

  13. Penny says:

    Giveaway,

    Tell Stephanie I want to read her book. I know nothing about them so this makes a good
    start or at least for me. I enjoyed her description of Camille. Very clear.

  14. Linda says:

    Just began reading Claude & Camille on loan from the library and am really enjoying it. I would love to win my own copy from your GIVEAWAY. Hope I can someday make a trip to Giverny. I recommend a BBC DVD called ‘The Impressionists’ that was shown on PBS as a mini-series a while back. I bought it from Amazon.com and love watching it whenever I get in the Monet mood.

  15. Giveaway
    Monet is my favorite of all the Impressionists.

  16. christine says:

    Ahhh, love Monet. What a great post – imagining Camille through Monet’s visons of her!

    Would love to win this giveaway!

  17. Stephanie, thanks for the great guest post. This gives so much more insight into Camille and I can’t WAIT to read the book (which I won on the Wonders & Marvels giveaway…woot)! How tragic that she died and left behind two young sons. I have two young sons and I couldn’t imagine leaving them behind without their mother.