November 20, 2006 12:00 PM

By Sue Roe



Anyone who has ever lost themselves in Monet’s color-saturated gardens or swooned over Degas’s dancers will enjoy this revealing group portrait of the artists who founded the Impressionist movement in mid-19th-century Paris. Roe takes readers into the studios where Manet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Cassatt and Morisot met, honed their craft and struggled to make ends meet. Responding to the societal upheaval that marked the reign of Napoleon III, these artists democratized the idea of what paintings could be about; ordinary life served as inspiration. Roe brings her own subjects to life with revealing details. Renoir began training as a teenager by painting Marie Antoinette’s portrait onto porcelain teacups. Monet was once so depressed about his family and failing finances that he threw himself into the Seine but “was too good a swimmer to drown.” Taking in the large cast and the wealth of information sometimes feels a bit like trying to see the entire Louvre in a single day, but for the armchair dilettante, as well as the art-history student, this is lively, required reading.

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