Saturday, March 28, 2015

Maureen Gibbon's Paris Red: a bold, observant novel of Manet's most famous model

Victorine Louise Meurent, the young woman who posed for Édouard Manet’s innovative, scandalous painting Olympia, among others, is placed at the center of Gibbon’s observant work.

In 1862, after an unnamed stranger enters the lives of Victorine and her close friend, Denise, and begins a teasing, charged relationship with them both, she takes a courageous step, leaving behind her impoverished existence as a silver burnisher to pursue him solo.

It becomes clear that she’s his match in sensuality—which surprises and pleases him—and her boldness serves them both well in her role as his model. Their affair is undeniably erotic, yet one of Paris Red ’s strengths lies in its unexpected status as a tale of artistic rather than sexual awakening.

Although only 17 to his thirtysomething, Victorine is no naive ingenue, and her involvement with Manet and his world serves as her entrée into a new way of envisioning and experiencing life. Full of animated scenes of working-class Paris in the 1860s, Gibbon’s color-rich prose moves with the deliberate urgency of brushstrokes on canvas.

Maureen Gibbon's Paris Red will be published on April 20th by W. W. Norton (hardcover, $24.95, 224pp).  This review first appeared in March 15th's Booklist.

Victorine Meurent (1844-1927) posed for numerous works by Manet, including the famous Le Déjeuner Sur l’Herbe (1863).  What isn't as well known is that she became a noted artist in her own right, exhibiting her work at Paris's Salon in 1876, although only one of her paintings has survived.  Read more about her in Kathryn Hughes' 2013 article for the Telegraph, "Manet's Forgotten Muse," and in the Guardian, V. R. Main's "The Naked Truth."

For more on Paris Red, Stephanie Renee dos Santos has a new review and interview with Maureen Gibbon at her blog, Love of Art in Historical Fiction.

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