These two novels by Susan Vreeland are fictional glimpses into the lives of two very different painters. The Impressionist Auguste Renoir, painting in late 19th century France and Artemisia Gentileschi ( 1593 - 1653), one of the few women painters of post-Renaissance Italy to achieve success in her lifetime.
The Passion of Artemisia is the story of a young woman who, in spite of rape, betrayal, and discrimination, makes her way in the hitherto all-male world of painting. It's a compelling account and helps to explain the violent subject matter of her most famous painting, 'Judith slaying Holofernes.'
Artimesia's story has the drama but Vreeland's account of the creation of Renoir's best known painting, 'The Luncheon of the Boating Party,' made me smell the oil paint.
As I followed Renoir through the difficulties of assembling so many people to pose for this picture and the different choices he made in the composition, as well as the various stages over a period of weeks of completing this piece, I became familiar with each face in the painting, with the clothing, the food on the table, even the shades of color in the white table cloth.
This is a wonderful lesson in how to look at a painting and I recommend it enthusiastically!