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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Forging a Modern Identity: Masters of American Painting Born After 1847 – A Review

identityThere are many books written about modern American painting. Many serve as a general overview of the period and some go into great detail and discussion over a specific artist or movement. What sets James W. Tottis’ catalog apart from other art books such as these is that along with strong, well-researched essays, he has also included high resolution details of larger works that coincide with specifics discussed in the text.

Such an inclusion helps to further engage the reader about the material that is being debated and discussed. It offers readers a different view, a more in-depth vision of the works themselves as well as the period of art history with which they were created in. They truly bring a part of art history to life.

America Forges Its Own Identity

Moreover, looking at the period in general, James W. Tottis has chosen a significantly interesting time to further explore and present. Tottis includes works from the later 19th century and first half of the 20th, a time where America was changing drastically. In art alone, there was a large movement from away traditional landscape and historical narrative paintings. At this time, America itself was forging ahead, creating a new identity and moving towards a modern nation. Artist of the time were creatures of their environment and what was being created was largely based on the study of human form, society figures and everyday scenes.

Laying the Ground Work for the Abstract

From this breaking away from the traditional artists such as Mary Cassatt and Marsden Hartley were laying the ground work for what would inevitably follow in movements to come – abstraction of the human form and a general moving away from it all together.

Tottis does a great service to his readers by including many of the more well-known artists of this transitional period within the American art historical timeline. The text that he includes along with such examples bring to life this period and help readers to begin to make connections to varying art forms and artists who would follow this period.

Overall, James W. Tottis has done an excellent job in editing Forging a Modern Identity – Masters of American Painting Born After 1847. Both seasoned art historians as well as budding art history students would greatly benefit from Tottis’ work.

Forging a Modern Identity – Masters of American Painting Born After 1847 edited by James W. Tottis is available for purchase through D. Giles Ltd. with ISBN 1904832067

Book Review: The Swan Thieves

Elizabeth Kostovaswans was first published in 2005 with her best-selling historical vampire thriller, The Historian. Today, there are more than 1.5 million copies in print and a Sony film adaptation is in the works. Much like that novel, Kostova sets up The Swan of Thieves.

The Artist and the Academic

Here, Kostova creates a central, academic hero that becomes engrossed within a mystery. Each chapter ranges in time from past to present, encompassing the lives of painters Beatrice de Clerval and her uncle Olivier Vignot, whose lives are beautifully described and played out through their art and letters.

Juxtaposing the past with the present, Kostova creates her academic hero in Andrew Marlow, a trained psychiatrist who is bent on asking the tough, prying questions and unraveling the mystery that is key to the plot of the novel. The mystery being that one of Marlow’s patients, renowned painter Robert Oliver, tried to slash a painting in the National Gallery. Marlow becomes increasingly obsessed with Oliver and his reasons for attempting to do what he did, when he uncovers Oliver’s obsession with a stolen batch of letters written in French that he continually reads and obsesses over himself.

Living Up to The Historian

Fans of Kostova have waited with great anticipation for her next novel. Fans of The Historian will not be disappointed by The Swan Thieves, in fact, it is rather easy to see much of Kostova’s budding writing style continue on into her latest novel.

The intrigue and ability to build a deep and entangled plot is clearly evident in Kostova’s second novel. Accompanied with the lush world of Impressionism and 19th century life, Kostova delivers with The Swan Thieves: A Novel. Kostova has a great gift for writing. It will be a long wait to see what her third novel will bring to her already impressive quality of work.

About the Author – Elizabeth Kostova

Kostova was born New London, Connecticut and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee where she graduated from the Webb School of Knoxville. She went on to complete her undergraduate degree from Yale University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan.

According to a press release, in May 2007, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation was created to help support Bulgarian creative writing, the translation of contemporary Bulgarian literature into English, and friendship between Bulgarian authors and American and British authors.

The Swan Thieves: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova was published by Little, Brown and Company on January 12, 2010 with ISBN 0316065781.

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.