Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

Sacre Bleu! How One Color Inspires

Sacre Bleu, by Christopher Moore, is excellent.  It is a exuberant romp through the history of art, and includes characters lifted up from the pages of art textbooks and brought to vivid life.

The novel begins with a mystery; Vincent Van Gogh shoots himself in a fit of depression and artistic passion.  Or does he?  His friends and fellow artists, Lucien Lessard and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, are not so sure.  Their quest to find the truth leads them from other Impressionist painters, to mysterious models, to Paris’ cafe’s and cabarets.  Their journey will ultimately lead the young artists to explore place and time, and through the history of art itself.

The novel also leads us to an interesting question; where does artistic inspiration spring from?  How does this drive to create an image of ballet dancers, or a pond of lilies, or a busy train station full of steam from engines spring from an artist’s hand, through a curtain of color laid on a palette, and onto the humble white canvas?

Moore’s writing is engaging, irreverent, and sometimes downright funny.  He can give life to the ordinary, describing something most people would not even bother with and painting his own pictures with words.  My favorite; Lucien, at age seven, hunts for snails in a graveyard (as the novel informs me, only the best snails come from cemeteries).  “Upon the third tomb he passed, a fairly fresh slab of basalt belonging to the late Leon Foucault, was an angry escargot, his horns extended, lording over his stony realm like a dragon over his hoard of gold.  ‘Aha!’ said Lucien.  ‘Aha!’ replied the snail.”  Delightful description.  Twists of amusement.  These types of passages abound.

Sacre Bleu is refreshing.  It is truly unique and creative.  Moore has taken the Impressionists and has created a world for them to play (and paint) in.  His biography of the color blue, the sacred color from precious ultramarine used for only the most holy images, is brilliant.

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