Sacre Bleu: a Reading Map
'Sacre Bleu' by Christopher Moore - a reading map to further enjoyment
I had so much fun reading Christopher Moore’s Sacre Bleu that I wanted to extend the experience, and I thought other readers might want to as well. In addition to the humor and the adventure, there’s quite a bit of setting and historical detail in this book (albeit with a heavy layer of imagination applied!), all of which can be explored further through the books below.
If you are looking to broaden your understanding of the time period and the artists, try some nonfiction from the "About" categories. If you are looking for fiction incorporating art historical details and fictionalized characters based on historical figures, try a book from those sections. If you are looking for a similar reading experience regardless of subject matter, try a book from the “Books with the Same Feel” category. When you’re done reading, you might also want to check out a DVD to watch. And finally, may I suggest putting Putumayo’s French Café on in the background for some musical atmosphere?
A young baker - who is also an aspiring painter - in late 19th century Paris joins his friend Toulouse-Latrec in a bawdy romp around the art world to expose the truth behind several odd occurrences - including whether Van Gogh committed suicide ,or was in fact murdered. Hilarious, irreverent, and packed with art historical details and quirky characters, this novel warmly recreates the world of the Post-Impressionists and the magical City of Light, with a touch of old-world mythology to add mystique.
About the Artists
- Toulouse-Lautrec: The Moulin Rouge and the City of Light, by Robert Burleigh - Have this available to peruse while you read “Sacre Bleu” - the large format of this book means reproductions of paintings and prints on a sumptuous scale, in addition to photographs of the artists and their milieu. Written to be accessible to junior readers, this provides just enough biographical detail but is not exhaustive (and is less salacious than a more mature biography might be).
- The Judgment of Paris: the Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism, by Ross King - Set the scene for the Impressionists with this account of two rival painters - Meissonier and Manet - which serves to illustrate the broader movements at work In the decade between the Salon des Refuses in 1863 and the first Impressionist show in 1874.
- Several of the paintings in Sacre Bleu are hidden away for years by the Colorman. Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling tells the story of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterworks lost and hidden in other ways - by Nazi looting in World War II - and a family’s efforts to recover their collection. On the other side, trace a Vermeer painting from its ownership during WWII back in time through to its inception at the hands of the artist in Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland.
- The Flaneur: a Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris, by Edmund White
- Lunch in Paris: a Love Story, with Recipes, by Elizabeth Bard
- The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: a Pedestrian in Paris, by John Baxter
- Paris: the Secret History, by Andrew Hussey
- French Milk, by Lucy Knisley
- Haussmann, or the Distinction, by Paul LaFarge
About Color and the History of Pigment
- Color: a Natural History of the Palette, by Victoria Finlay - a highly readable social and natural history of pigments and dyes
- Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color, by Philip Ball - a cultural history of pigments and dyes
- The Virgin Blue, by Tracy Chevalier - This novel features romance and mystery with historical details of the Protestant Reformation. It is a dream of the color blue that connects two women centuries apart when a modern American woman in France starts investigating her family past. The author is also known for working art historical details into her novels, such as The Lady and the Unicorn and Girl with a Pearl Earring (see below).
Art Historical Fiction
- Rodin's Lover, by Heather Webb - Camille Claudel was a sculptor with her own workshop in 1880s Paris when she became involved with Auguste Rodin as his apprentice, lover, and muse. A story of passions and obsessions.
- Johanna, by Claire Cooperstein - In 1889 Johanna Bonger married Theo van Gogh, brother to the artist Vincent. This novel draws from real letters of the family and imagined diary excerpts of Johanna, while Theo maintains an art gallery in Paris and the lives of the newlyweds are interrupted by caring for Vincent as he is increasingly disturbed and unacknowledged as an artist. After both brothers’ tragic deaths, Johanna strives to continue their legacy, finally finding favor for Van Gogh’s works.
- Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Susan Vreeland - traces all the characters depicted with Auguste Renoir’s painting of the same title. Vreeland uses narration by Renoir and several of the models to portray life in 1881 Paris, in all its colorful, vibrant detail. If enjoy this, try also Vreeland’s other art historical novels: The Passion of Artemisia or Clara and Mr. Tiffany.
- Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, by Harriet Scott Chessman - Lydia is the sister of Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt. This novel explores the relationship of the sisters - one the model and one the painter - to art, to each other, and their role within the art world of 1880s Paris.
- The Forgery of Venus, by Michael Gruber - In this literary thriller, virtuoso forger Chaz Wilmot becomes embroiled in visions that he is travelling through time to live as 17th c. Spanish artist Velazquez.
- Leonardo’s Swans, by Karen Essex - Renaissance Italy is the stage for a rivalry between sisters and as much court intrigue as you’d find with The Other Boleyn Girl. This novel depicts the scene in which Leonardo da Vinci created some of his masterpieces, and one of the sisters plays his muse. If you like this one, you might like another tale of art and romance in Renaissance Florence, The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant.
- The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan - Two sisters in 1880s Paris - one in training in the Ballet of the Paris Opera (and later a model for Degas) and the other an extra in a stage adaptation of Emile Zola's L'Assommoir. Drama and romance behind the scenes of the Parisian demimonde.
- The Moon and Sixpence, by W. Somerset Maugham - Charles Strickland abandons his staid life with respectable house and family to become a penniless painter in Paris and then Tahiti - inspired and desperate to create art despite the cost. Maugham published this work, inspired by the life of Paul Gaugin, in 1919.
- This list on Goodreads will give you still more to try: Art & Artists in Fiction
More about Muses
- Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime, by Patricia Hampl - A painting by Matisse is itself a muse for author Patricia Hampl, who is inspired to journey to study Matisse’s depictions of odalisques - exotic nudes from the height of Orientalism.
- The Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier - In 17th century Holland, a maid in the household of Vermeer is drawn into the artist’s world and the intimacy between the two has repurcussions. If you’ve already read and enjoyed “The Girl with a Pearl Earring”, you also might like Tulip Fever by Deborah Maggoch - another lush tale of art and adultery in 17th c. Netherlands.
- Madame Picasso, by Anne Girard - this novel captures the allure of bohemian Paris and tells the story of Eva Gouel, who inspired Picasso during his Cubist period.
- Girl Reading, by Katie Ward - Seven women in different times and places inspire seven artists to create works of art in this work of carefully constructed, connected stories.
- Still more to try:
- The Painted Kiss, by Elizabeth Hickey (Gustav Klimt)
- The Last Nude, by Ellis Avery
- Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X, by Deborah Davis
Books with the Same Feel
- For a wry smile and offbeat humor with a heavy dose of irony: Douglas Adams - why not try his Dirk Gently series.
- For a grown-up fairy tale with a touch of menace: Neil Gaiman, especially American Gods or Anansi Boys, or even Neverwhere.
- For irreverent but skillful blending of classical and fantastic: Seth Grahame-Smith
- For lots of wordplay and silliness: Jasper Fforde - try the Nursery Crimes series.
- For introducing the mythological into the everyday - and the everyday into the historical - with light, hilarious results: Tom Holt
- For absurdity and dark humor: Robert Rankin
- Others to try:
- Try one of the books the author Chris Moore suggests himself: Chris’ Picks
- Hugo - This movie (only loosely based on Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret) depicts an eccentric Paris with a touch of creative whimsy.
- Paris: the Luminous Years: This documentary focuses on Paris as the birthplace of modernism in all aspects of art. Its subject matter is compromised of later works and broader movements than those in “Sacre Bleu”, but demonstrates the roots of these movements and firmly seats Paris as the City of Light.
- Impressionism and Post-impressionism: from the “Landmarks of Western Art” series - though the commentary is dry, all the facts are there, and some great visuals of masterpieces. Use this DVD to get caught up with your art historical knowledge of the roots of the milieu presented in “Sacre Bleu”.
- Baz Luhrmann’s film Moulin Rouge is another vivid celebration of the artists' demi-monde, delightfully stitched together with lush music; Toulouse-Lautrec is a character in this one, too.
- There's even a little bit of Wallace and Grommit's The Wrong Trousers in this book, too.
- Don't miss The Van Gogh episode of Doctor Who, season five.