I have just finished one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. I can’t wrap my head around it, though. I don’t really know what it meant. One can interpret it in a number of ways, and I have been doing that for the past few days. The meaning the author wanted to convey can be as elusive as the book’s subject matter: SCENT.
There was a copy of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind, at my mother’s house when I was in college. I never touched it. I’m glad I didn’t, as I’m sure I wouldn’t have liked it then, being too young to deal with its abstractions. Now I read the English translation from the German by John E. Woods: The language is amazing, a pleasure in its own right. I wonder what it sounds likes in the original. There’s a movie based on the book, but most of my friends told me it wasn’t nearly as good as the novel. So I guess I won’t see it.
The content of the book wafts from the page in its mixture of aromatic words, fragrant images, perfumed beauty, pungent corruption, and putrid evil. What does it mean to be human? What can satisfy a person? This is what the story seems to ask. Read this masterpiece and let’s discuss it.
However, after reading the book, you will never think of scent, odor, perfume, and stench – or France in the 18th century for that matter – in the same way again.
Have you read the book? What are your thoughts about it? Let us know.
The quintessential Impressionist, Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840 but grew up on a beach town in Normandy, Le Havre. His father was a grocer and his mother was a singer.
From an early age he was bored with regular school and spent more time drawing sketches on the blue pages on his notebooks than dedicating himself to his lessons. These sketches were caricatures of teachers and famous people, and he was able to sell them easily for a fair price.
In 1858, Monet met the seascape painter Eugène Boudin, who would have a huge influence on Monet’s style of painting. Monet began to appreciate nature and wish to paint the effects of light and shadows on water, trees, and flowers. He learned that the ideal way of painting was in the “open air”.
He decided to move to Paris and join the Académie Suisse in 1859. The atmosphere of the Académie was very relaxed, the hours were flexible, and the painters were free to develop their own experiments. Later, Monet joined the studio of Charles Gleyre, where he made friends with the artists Bazille, Renoir and Sisley.
The most important achievement for an artist in those days was to have his paintings accepted and shown at the famous Salón, an official annual exhibition in Paris, sponsored by the government. Despite the fact that Monet had some works accepted there, he soon realized that the kind of painting he was interested in would never be popular in that traditional environment.
The paintings in the Salón were usually idealized works, representing historical or mythological subjects. They were usually perfectly finished with extra coats of paint added to them. Monet, however, had realized very early on that what he enjoyed painting was the real world: landscapes, seascapes and contemporary Paris, applying vibrant colors, representing the way light was reflected on trees, grass, water, flowers and regular people. He was one of the first painters to paint outdoors from the start to the end of a painting. He thought it was essential to capture real light and the way it changed along the day and in different seasons of the year.
In 1874, his group of friends, who also had difficulty having their artworks accepted by the Salón, decided to have an exhibition dedicated to their own works. Of course, it was hard to compete with the Salón, and their exhibition only attracted a fraction of the public who would go to the traditional event, but that was a start, anyway. Their alternative exhibition was repeated every year for the next eight years.
In 1874 exhibition, Monet presented a painting called Impression: Sunrise (see image below). All we saw in it was a solitary boat on the sea in Le Havre with a red sunset reflecting on the water, painted in fast, diffused brushstrokes. An art critic, Louis Leroy, from the magazine Charivari, mocking the title and the style of the picture, wrote that the artists that painted like Monet were mere impressionists. His paintings looked more like sketches rather than finished works of art. Despite the derogatory use of the word, Monet and his friends boldly appropriated the name and started to use it officially to define their revolutionary new style. Impressionism had been born.
Impression, Sunrise, 1876.
Claude Monet had financial problems for most of the first part of his life, but he started to make real money after he turned forty. By then, Impressionism had already become a recognized and important artistic style, admired and sought after by many art dealers.
He married twice. He had two sons by his first wife Camille, and 6 stepchildren from his second wife, Alice. He spent forty years living in a beautiful house with his whole family, painting views from his wonderful garden and artificial pond, carefully put together by himself with the help of 6 gardeners. This house was in Giverny and can still be visited by tourists today.
When he moved to Giverny in 1883, Monet started to paint what is usually known as the series paintings: he would paint the same subject on many canvas at a time, working on each one according to the right time of the day, giving continuation to each of them on the following day. So, as the light changed, he moved to the next painting matching the right time of the day, in a sequence. He started with haystacks, and then moved on to poplar trees, the Rouen Cathedral and, finally, the famous water lilies. He has more than 200 paintings on lilies, including the huge curved panels kept at the Musée de l’Orangerie, near the Louvre.
Blue Water Lilies: 1916-1919
It is important to say that, although Monet was the official founder of Impressionism, he had been strongly influenced by the works of Manet and Courbet, who came before him, and, at a later stage, by the works of Turner and Constable, which he was able to get to know when he lived in London with his family, during the Franco-Prussian war. The group of Impressionists consisted of many artists, such as Renoir, Bazille, Sisley, Degas, Cézanne and others, who strengthened the movement with their powerful contributions. Cézanne was the one who took the movement forward, showing the way to the future, heavily influencing iconic artists such as Matisse and Picasso.
A chain smoker, Monet died of lung cancer in 1926, having worked hard on his paintings and his garden to the very end. Claude Monet is one of most famous and loved artists in history, and his paintings sell for millions of dollars today.
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Pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Cubism is one of the most revolutionary and seminal art movements of the 20th century. It has its origins in the post-impressionist paintings of Paul Cezanne, and aims at depicting reality in a non-naturalistic way, being considered the seed of the abstract paintings developed later on. Cubism in its more innovative and radical form lasted from 1907 to 1914, when the First World War broke out.
The end of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century were marked by great technological innovations that cried for an art form that could express these fast changes and new times. Traditional art, based on realistic works, which had been perfecting the use of perspective since the Renaissance, could not compete with the innovations of photography and film. They would be a mere replication of these more accurate methods of showing reality.
Portrait of Fernande by Picasso, Pablo, 1909
In an attempt to grasp the essence of the times, Picasso started to move towards more simplified depictions of objects and the human form, trying to represent simultaneously the different angles from which they could be seen, not only from a unique perspective. He started to flatten his images, making use of geometric shapes (such as cubes, hence the name of the movement) and deconstructing reality by slashing the image into different planes, producing, thus, an effect which had a more intellectual than sensorial impact on the viewer.
The iconic painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is considered the first Cubist work of art. Primitive art, such as African masks and Iberian sculptures, played an influential role in the development of Cubism. This first phase of the movement is usually known as analytic cubism, characterized by the use of dark, almost monochromatic color hues, and growing to a point where the deconstruction of reality became so radical that the viewer could hardly identify the object or person depicted. The second phase, synthetic cubism, was a lot more energetic and colorful, including the technique of collage, where real-life two-dimensional materials, such as colored paper, newspapers or even hair ribbons, were glued to the painting.
Bottle, Guitar, and Pipe by Picasso, Pablo. 1912
It’s hard to pinpoint when Cubism really finished, although we usually place it in the historical period between 1907-1914. It actually did not end, but transformed itself and evolved into other styles in the following decades.
Even today we can identify strong influences of Cubism in architecture, design and, of course, the arts in general.
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