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Private Lives of the Impressionists
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Private Lives of the Impressionists

4.1 8
by Sue Roe

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Though they were often ridiculed or ignored by their contemporaries, today astonishing sums are paid for their paintings. Their dazzling works are familiar to even the most casual art lovers—but how well does the world know the Impressionists as people?

Sue Roe's colorful, lively, poignant, and superbly researched biography, The Private Lives of the


Though they were often ridiculed or ignored by their contemporaries, today astonishing sums are paid for their paintings. Their dazzling works are familiar to even the most casual art lovers—but how well does the world know the Impressionists as people?

Sue Roe's colorful, lively, poignant, and superbly researched biography, The Private Lives of the Impressionists, follows an extraordinary group of artists into their Paris studios, down the rural lanes of Montmartre, and into the rowdy riverside bars of a city undergoing monumental change. Vivid and unforgettable, it casts a brilliant, revealing light on this unparalleled society of genius colleagues who lived and worked together for twenty years and transformed the art world forever with their breathtaking depictions of ordinary life.

Editorial Reviews

Henrietta Garnett
“A compelling subject: Sue Roe’s book does it justice and is a pleasure to read.”
Kathryn Hughes
“Roe synthesizes the welath of published...work on half a dozen artists into a coherent narrative of kith and kinship”
Tom Rosenthal
“Widely researched...[Roe] has a neat, light touch.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Exceptionally detailed and thoroughly researched….Roe has done an admirable job of unearthing…countless…source materials.”
Providence Journal
“Wonderful…Roe has a lively writing style and does a good job of delineating the personalities of each artist.”
Daily Mail (London)
“Vivid, superbly researched...Sue Roe transports us back to their Paris”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“An illuminating insight into the lives of aesthetic revolutionaries”
“An entertaining, informative read...this [is a] wonderfully written biography.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Roe constructs a penetrating group portrait...scintillatingly detailed and empathic.”
Publishers Weekly
From Monet and Pissarro's first meeting in Paris in 1860 to art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel's influential 1886 Impressionist exhibition in New York City, the group known as the Impressionists Manet, Monet, Pissarro, C zanne, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and Cassatt struggled to build their reputations, support themselves financially and create meaningful personal lives. In this meticulously researched and vividly written book, British writer Roe (Gwen John) argues that their drive for success was the strongest unifying factor among this diverse group of artists, including the antisocial, celibate Degas, the socialist Pissarro and the chronically depressed Sisley, who resented the Impressionists' meager public appreciation until the very end of his life. Roe's nuanced portraits of these artists include personal details both small the American Cassatt's booming voice and "atrocious" French accent and significant Manet's illegitimate son and his upper-middle-class family's elaborate efforts to conceal the child's existence. The result is a comprehensive and revealing group portrait, superbly contextualized within the period's volatile political, socioeconomic and artistic shifts. Roe's book will be of great interest to both art and social historians as well as to the general reader. 16 pages of color illus., b&w illus; 1 map. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
An accomplished scholar who's written prolifically in the area of 19th- and 20th-century French and English painting, 20th-century English literature, and 20th-century aesthetics, Roe (creative studies, Univ. of Sussex; Gwen John: A Painter's Life) here offers a collective biography that explores how Manet, Monet, Pissarro, C zanne, and several other impressionist artists met, lived, and worked together. However scholarly Roe's background, her new book is more charming than academically rigorous. Admirably free of intellectual jargon and scholarly citation devices, it is a decidedly readable work that should engage lay readers and spur undergraduates to conduct authentic research of their own. But despite the inclusion of seemingly extensive endnotes, a bibliography, and an index, a more cerebral audience may quickly become frustrated by Roe's perplexing citation style and will be left wondering how much of the information is extrapolated from reliable sources. Recommended for public libraries.-Jennifer H. Krivickas, Yale Ctr. for British Art, New Haven Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Group portrait of the French artists linked by shifting alliances who emerged in the 1860s, endured parody and ridicule before triumphing at their first New York City exhibition in 1886 and enjoy towering reputations (and prices) today. In his late 70s, near death but still painting, Renoir reportedly said of his profession, "I think I am beginning to understand something about it." His words could serve as an epigraph for this fine synthesis of a remarkable movement and its principals. It took decades for professional art critics and the public to accept the work of Manet, Monet, Degas, Cezanne and the other astonishingly talented artists who, for survival's sake, first formed a loose coalition, then actually wrote and signed a (short-lived) charter. Poet and novelist Roe has written about the art world before (Gwen John: A Painter's Life, 2001) and here shows evidence of having read the significant biographies of both major and minor players (many quotations are tertiary) and of walking the ground the notables once trod. The title suggests titillation and does not disappoint, with its frank account of the subjects' financial and personal struggles, loves and losses. But she also deals with the era's political, economic and military developments. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 had a particularly powerful impact on the artists; a number of them ran toward the fray, and one of their number, Bazille, died in battle. Roe has plucked from her subjects' lives many engaging and poignant stories: Renoir's escape from a firing squad, Manet's fascination with feet (and his death from syphilis), the savage reviews the group endured from critic Albert Wolff, Degas's struggles with his sculpture ofa young dancer. The author properly emphasizes the pivotal role played by art-dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who believed in the Impressionists from the start and dedicated his life to their cause-and financial solvency. Intelligent and well-crafted portraits of some of history's most intriguing geniuses.
"Roe constructs a penetrating group portrait...scintillatingly detailed and empathic."

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HarperCollins Publishers
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The Private Lives of the Impressionists

By Sue Roe

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Sue Roe
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060545585

Chapter One

Napoleon III's Paris

'The Seine. I have painted it all my life, at all hours of the day, at all times of the year, from Paris to the sea . . . Argenteuil, Poissy, Vétheuil, Giverny, Rouen, Le Havre.'
--Claude Monet

The Seine flowed through its narrow bed, meandering from Paris to the Normandy coast, drawing all the countryside between into one region. 'Le Havre, Rouen and Paris are a single city, in which the Seine is a winding road,' Napoleon III, Emperor of France, was fond of saying. In Paris, along its banks, rows of irregular-shaped houses made a low, untidy skyline. On the Île Saint-Louis, large, old houses with balconies and balustrades lined the narrow road skirting the river. On the Left Bank, the horizon was wide open as far as the blue slate gables of the hôtel de ville; on the right bank you could see as far as the lead-covered dome of Saint Paul's. The Seine was a working river, its surface a clutter of colour, alive with cargo. Emile Zola later described it, in his novel L'Oeuvre: 'a dormant flotilla of skiffs and dinghies, . . . barges loaded with coal lighters . . . flat river barges were moored four deep along the Mail. Piled high with yellow apples, they made a blaze of gold.'

Early in 1860, Claude Monet--twenty, clean-shaven and handsome, with brown,appraising eyes and floppy dark hair--made his way along the Right Bank, to a ramshackle building next to the Palais de Justice, at the angle of the Boulevard de Paris and the quai des Orfèvres. Outside, suspended from the upper floors of the building, swung a huge, rusty sign: SABRA, Dentiste du Peuple. The building where the dentist pulled teeth at one franc apiece also housed the studio of 'Père' Suisse, a former artist's model of uncertain origins who twice daily opened his doors so that students could, for a fee of ten francs a month, sketch from his model. By February 1860, Monet had begun life as an art student in Paris, attending Suisse's studio every day.

In 1860, Paris was still a medieval city, with dark, mouldering, rat-infested streets, and no efficient sewage system. The jumble of crumbling buildings, and the absence of air and sunlight, trapped all the smells of decay and detritus that people still lived among. Household waste ran in indentations down the middle of the grimy cobbled streets. The poor lived in filthy, broken shacks and shanties clustered around Clichy, Mouffetard and the Louvre. Balzac had called all these the Louvre's 'leprous façades'. Napoleon III himself, who in 1830 had thrown out the republicans and restored the Empire, called Paris 'nothing but a vast ruin, with plenty to suit the rats'. But in 1853, Baron Haussmann had been elected Prefect of the Seine. He immediately began making plans to transform the city. On 1 January 1859, Napoleon signed a decree approving the Baron's plans to tear down the inner city wall. Former suburbs of Paris--including Auteuil, Belleville and Montmartre--now became part of the city. But the suburbs were still comparatively rural, especially Montmartre, which in 1859 was a muddle of houses with gardens, broken-down shacks, and cheap little run-down bars and crémeries. The country lanes of Montmartre housed the poor workers employed by the seamstresses, florists and laundresses who worked at the foot of the hillside in Pigalle. This was also the district--lively with cafés, brasseries and café-concerts (cabarets)--where the artists congregated. They gathered in the Café de Bade, Tortini's or the Moulin Rouge, where among chilled pitchers brimming with pink champagne, grimy young men were surrounded by women in brash, red lipstick and cheap crinolines.

The rich were ferried in horse-drawn carriages down the newly created Boulevard Haussmann to the Opéra in Pigalle's rue le Peletier, the women decked out in silk-embroidered crinolines, feathers and pearls. But not just the rich: everyone was on the move. In 1855, the Universal Exhibition--a vast, commercial fair, designed to demonstrate to the world Paris's prosperity, and to show off its decorative arts and material culture--had introduced new fashions and set new precedents in taste. The Emperor's musical soirées, held in the gardens of the Château of the Tuileries, set the sartorial tone. The audiences comprised a mingling of the haute bourgeoisie with newly affluent members of the upwardly mobile merchant and industrial classes who were moving into Haussmann's new apartments and buying chic, new mass-produced ornaments and furniture. Since 1857, 300 newly acquired horse-drawn omnibuses had been circulating among neighbouring boulevards (not simply, as they once had, servicing the more profitable routes). For the first time, Parisians could move easily through the city for shopping and entertainment, although the top deck was barred to women, for fear of their showing their ankles as they mounted the stairs. Haussmann was laying down new streets, pulling down whole districts, and creating new squares. Some said Haussmann's Paris was designed for the easy surveillance of approaching armies; others, that it was really contrived to drive the poor of Paris away from the central arrondissements, out to the suburbs. As the construction took place, and the industrial and commercial classes began to purchase smart new apartments, there was increased potential for extravagance, commerce and the pursuit of pleasure, and an obsession with clothes and decoration. The city was in a state of flux. There was a new sense of bustle and movement, and, for the first time, a mix of people of all classes in the streets, which smelled unmistakably of Paris: a mingling of leeks and lilacs. When the bulldozers arrived and began their clearing-up operation to remove the workers' shacks and create the rue de Rivoli, the rag-pickers came in: tramps and absinthe drinkers, poking about among the debris for the coins and jewellery rumoured to be buried there.


Excerpted from The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe Copyright © 2006 by Sue Roe. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This

Tom Rosenthal
“Widely researched...[Roe] has a neat, light touch.”
Kathryn Hughes
“Roe synthesizes the welath of published...work on half a dozen artists into a coherent narrative of kith and kinship”
Henrietta Garnett
“A compelling subject: Sue Roe’s book does it justice and is a pleasure to read.”

Meet the Author

Sue Roe is the author of several books, including a widely praised biography of the artist Gwen John. She lives and teaches in Brighton, England.

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Private Lives of the Impressionists 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book so much it sparked an interest in learning more about artists lives. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the lives of the impressionists.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you love impressionist paintings—and who doesn't?—you'll love getting closer to Monet, Cezanne, Pissarro, Cassatt and Degas, Morisot and Manet and the rest, whose lives were often as original as their art. Even if you think you know these artists well, you're sure to learn even more.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My art history classes were long ago...so this was a perfect book to read before visiting Paris and its art museums. Excellent! I wish there was an enhanced eBook available, with photos of the works of art that are discussed.
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