Sheramy Bundrick’s Sunflowers: A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh – A Review

sunThere is nothing easy about writing historical fiction. Once a writer adds art into the mix, the project becomes something entirely different as many artists, especially those like Vincent Van Gogh are not so easily defined. Furthermore, having the ability to blend factual art historical information with the fiction a writer creates, is difficult and can often produce novels that are more of a creation as opposed to a well-researched, factual backdrop with a fictional story also added for entertainment.

This, however, is not the case with Sheramy Bundrick’s Sunflowers. As an art historian and professor, Bundrick brings to the table a strong set of skills and research that are more than evident in her fictional retelling of the final two years of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh’s troubled life. She recounts with some liberty, the time that the struggling artist spent with a young woman named Rachel – the very same lady that would be presented with a fragment of his ear.

Rachel Corteau

In reality, there is nearly nothing that has survived in history about the real Rachel, other then a document that lists her name, address, occupation and that she was the woman Van Gogh asked for at the brothel to present her with a piece of his ear. Other artists such as Bernard and Gauguin mention Rachel in their writings and letters only in passing, referring to her as the “cafe girl” or “a wretched girl” respectively.

Irregardless of the reality of the factual, historical relationship between Van Gogh and Rachel, Bundrick writes her story having imagined what it might have been like had there been a relationship between the two people while incorporating factual information regarding the time period and Van Gogh’s work.

Mixing Factual with Fantasy

Moreover, Bundrick creates this mixture of fantasy and art historical fact seamlessly. She captivates her readers from the very first page and does not let them go until they reach the inevitable end of both the novel and of Vincent Van Gogh. Her intricate descriptions make her readers feel as though they are part of the dingy cafe where Vincent and Rachel meet to talk, part of the garden where he draws her and even part of the city and busyness of the city of Arles as a whole.

Overall, Sheramy Bundrick’s work is captured best through Susan Vreeland, author of Life Studies, ” [Bundrick] lays bare in rich, compelling scenes the mystery of the turbulent and misunderstood final two years in Van Gogh’s life.” Sunflowers is a gem of a first novel and makes for an interesting glimpse into the mental decline of one of the world’s most famous artists.

Sunflowers – A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh by Sheramy Bundrick is available for purchase through Avon with ISBN 0061765279.

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On Carrington – A Life: An Overview of Gretchen Gerzina’s Dora Carrington Biography

carringtonWhen the British painter, Dora Carrington is discussed, the name Lytton Strachey is not too far behind. Carrington was associated with the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of artists who worked near Bloomsbury in London during the first half of the twentieth century. Its famous roster not only included Strachey, but Virginia Woolf as well.

During her lifetime, Carrington was not a well-known artist, and rarely exhibited any of her work. She did, however, work at the Omega workshop for a short time. It would not be until the 1970’s that a renewed interest in her work would begin.

In many ways she was a woman ahead of her time. She bobbed her hair, wore a mix of men and women’s clothing and despite having later married, she kept residence with the love of her life, who just happened to be gay. Either way, Carrington epitomized the Bohemian lifestyle that was very much a taboo during the time in which she lived.

Lytton Strachey

Strachey was a homosexual writer who Carrington falls completely in love with early on in her life. Gerzina heavily documents these feelings in the biography through a reproduction of sketches and letters that were sent between the two. Gerzina’s biography heavily focuses on this relationship more so than Carrington as a painter. Though, such an approach is interesting, it robs from art history as readers have to look towards other sources to learn more about Carrington the painter and not Carrington, the admirer of a homosexual artist.

Marriage to Ralph Partridge and the Affairs

There is no doubt that Partridge loved Carrington as Gerzina depicts their relationship with a sort of glow. Partridge would save Carrington from her first suicide attempt while never forgiving himself for failing to come to her aid in her second, fatal attempt. Gerzina also shows another side of Carrington, the one that often dabbled in lesbian affairs of her own while creating strong attachments and attractions to other artists such as Gerald Brenan.

Portrayal of Carrington, the Painter

Despite Gerzina’s approach to the biography, included are several chapters and photo inserts of and on Carrington’s work that help the reader to better understand Carringon as a painter outside of her absurd and often peculiar relationships with fellow artists.

The Movie

Gerzina’s biography was made into a movie entitled Carrington in 1995 and it stared Emma Thompson.

Another book that discuss Bohemia, Bloomsbury and people from Carrington’s circle is Virginia Nicholson’s Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939.

Carrington: A Life by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina is available through purchase online with ISBN 039331328X through W. W. Norton & Company.

Book Review: The Botticelli Secret

secretSteeped in the turmoil of the non-unified Italy of the 1400’s, Marina Fiorato skillfully weaves a detailed and evasive mystery around one of Botticelli’s more famous paintings, Primavera or Allegory of Spring. The painting is packed with meaning alone, but Fiorato takes the painting to an entirely new level in her book, The Botticelli Secret.

Primavera

Painted in 1482, the Primavera was created by Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. He was of the Florentine school and worked during the Early Renaissance or Qauttrocento. It is suggested that the allegory had been petitioned by the Medici family.

The work is largely accepted as an allegory of springtime, however, other themes and meanings have been explored, including the idea that the painting illustrates the ideal of Neoplatonic love. For Fiorato, the painting serves as the basis for her art history mystery in her novel.

The Plot

Fiorato opens her novel with the introduction of her heroine- common whore by the name of Luciana Vetra. She is described as a classical beauty, with long flowing ringlets and a sharp tongue from the four years that she spent on the streets of Florence. She is aptly named for how she arrived in Florence. Her origins for much of the novel are unknown, but from the beginning Luciana speaks of her uncommon arrival in the city- as a baby washedup on the shores of the city in a glass bottle.

The reader is quickly drawn to her, despite her abrasiveness and crassness that are abundant in the earlier part of the novel, but softens as she finds herself and finds love during the course of the story. Her flaws make Luciana realistic and easy to relate too, despite the over-the-top mystery and life that she eventually gets swept up in to.

Fiorato’s story of Luciana, Primavera and the mystery that engulfs everything is skillfully rendered and so lush that the reader easily gets immersed in the world of what Italy was like during the early part of the Renaissance. Fiorato leaves nothing to the imagination and stays away from romanticizing the period, leaving the reader with a raw and detailed depiction of what life was like during the time that Botticelli lived and worked.

The Botticell Secret by Marina Fiorato was originally published in April of 2010. It is available for purchase through St. Martin’s Griffin, New York with ISBN 978-0-312-60636-7.