Well, this week was the time of my annual horrible sinus infection-lovely, I know. Now most people don't go pick up a book when they are horribly congested, have a runny nose and lymph nodes the size of baseballs. But, since the weather finally turned colder and I had two boxes of Vicks Vap-o-Rub Kleenex, I thought a book might be a good distraction from not being able to breather through my nose (or breathe in general).
Christopher Moore's latest book, "Sacre Bleu", could just have easily been called, "Why did van Gogh Shoot Himself in a Cornfield and then Walk to His Doctor", or, "Why most Impressionistic Painters Died From Syphilis", or even, "The Book that Might Ruin Art History for the Elite". In fact, the afterword in the book is a big apology about how art is now ruined for some people (hardly-I think most people new the Impressionists were bastards that drank and hung out at the Moulin Rogue a bit too much.).
"Sacre Bleu" is a book that does attempt to answer the question, "Why did Vincent van Gogh shoot himself in the middle of a cornfield and then walk a mile to a doctor's house for help?". Moore weaves together many famous faces and names; Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Berthe Morisot, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, James Whistler-just to name a few. The author notes leaving out Edgar Degas because he was, "a miserable, unlikeable guy" and if he, "hadn't been such a jerk" he would have gotten a speaking part in the book.
The book follows Toulouse-Lautrec and his friend Lucien Lessard (a purely fictional character) through Paris and the art salons to see if a mysterious color man and beautiful woman may be behind Vincent's death. What they find out, well, I will let you figure that out yourself. Let's just say that yes, a woman is involved. Women are, according to Lucien's mother, "wondrous, mysterious, magical creatures who should be treated not only with respect but with reverence and even awe".
Moore starts his book with a Prelude:
"This is a story about the color blue. It may ridge and weave, hide and deceive, take you down the paths of love and history and inspiration, but it's always bout blue. How do you know, when you think of blue-when you say blue-that you are talking about the same blue as anyone else? You cannot get a grip on blue. Blue is the sky, the sea, a god's eye, a devil's tail, a birth, a strangulation, a virgin's cloak, a monkey's ass. It's a butterfly, a bird, a spicy joke, the saddest song, the brightest day. Blue is sly, slick. This is a story about the color blue, and like blue, there's nothing true about it. Blue is beauty, not truth. True blue is a ruse, a rhyme; i's there, then it's not. Blue is a deeply sneaky color. Even blue is shallow. Blue is glory and power, a wave, a particle, a vibration, a resonance, a spirit, a passion, a memory, a vanity, a metaphor, a dream. Blue is a simile. Blue is a woman."
Personally, I loved the book-though having Lucien be a baker made me constantly crave coffee and a nice loaf of french bread. The book rides the fine line of art history; Moore did take a good portion of his research from actual letters from the Impressionists; and good old fashion fiction-there was never a Lucien Lessard. Jumping through the 1800's and going back to 38,000 B.C, the book puts forward that great notion of art and madness and where inspiration comes from. Could all great paintings have come from a single muse? Or at least all great paintings that contain blue? From that question we're left with another, "How the Hell did Picasso live so long after his Blue Period?".
The book itself is beautiful. Heavy pages with a lovely blue font contain pictures of whatever artist's work is talked about-great if you don't happen to be an art history buff.
I would highly recommend this to art history buffs, teachers and art haters as well. Especially art haters, nothing like a whole lot of sex to get people into art, right? Just make sure you have the coffee brewing and a nice plate of French pastries on standby.