Monday, February 24, 2014

I Always Loved You

Title: I Always Loved You
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Author:  Robin Oliveira
Publication Information:  Viking Adult. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0670017191 / 978-0670017195

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Art does not arise from a well of imaginary skill, obtained by dint of native ability. The sublime is a result of discipline. Art is earned by hard work, by the study of form by obsessive revision. And only then are you set free. Only then can you see."

I Always Loved You is the story of the relationship between Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt - a relationship that lasted over 40 years and ended with his death in 1917. Was it love? Was it friendship? Was it admiration? Was it a mentorship? Was it a complicated combination of all of those things?

Please also see the reviews for The Painted Girls, which is the story involving one of Edgar Degas's models and Hare With Amber Eyes, a nonfiction account touching on those who admired and collected art.

Mary Cassatt was an American woman who came to Paris in the 1860s to pursue her art. At that time, "success" on the European art scene was determined in large part by whether or not the artist was invited by the Paris Salon to exhibit. The organizers of the Salon judged and selected the artwork based on their definitions of what constituted "good" art.

The Impressionist movement was in its infancy at that time and typically did not meet the Salon's approval. The Salon did not approve of their departure from tradition and their avant-garde work. Thus, a group of Impressionists held their own exhibition during the 1870s and 1880s. This group included Edgar Degas, Monet, Renoir, Manet, C├ęzanne, Berthe Morisot, others, and eventually Mary Cassatt. It is in this environment that Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt meet.

This book brings to life this world and gives the reader a peak at the people who are now considered the masters of their field.

Many people have studied their relationship and attempted to reconstruct what it meant. People have written dissertations on it. The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC is curating a joint exhibition of their work later this year. The exhibition will focus on how each influenced the other's work.

Unfortunately, most of the correspondence between the two has been lost; some of it destroyed by Mary Cassatt before her death. Nobody knows the exact nature of their relationship. Yet, this book brings it to life in a vivid and engrossing story through description and dialogue:

"You are to me what no other creature is. We are the same mind, Mary. We are the same soul, occupying two different bodies."
"We are not," she said.
"You are the only woman I can tolerate in the world."
"That is not praise."
"Why would I flatter you? I respect you too much."
"This is how you show your respect?"

The book tells of their friendships, of their struggles, of their loves, and of the history behind the creation of some of the greatest Impressionist art pieces in the world. It speaks to the question, "Whether there was room for love in two lives already consumed by passion of another sort."

A beautifully written story of what the history of this time was and what the relationship between the two might have been.

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