Monday, April 09, 2007

Art books for Squirrelings

Ponytails and Crayons have been interested in Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin ever since they read Katie and the Sunflowers and Katie Meets the Impressionists. Grandpa Squirrel, not knowing this, gave them each a small photo album along with some Easter chocolates, and even Mama Squirrel was a little startled to hear Crayons say (on looking at the cover of her album), "ooh, Monet!" Ponytails' album had a Van Gogh painting on the cover.

This week Mama Squirrel was looking for Linnea in Monet's Garden at the library, so that we could do a bit more with our Monet picture studies. I notice that Linnea hasn't gotten entirely great reviews on Amazon, but we've always liked Christina Bjork's books (especially The Other Alice, one of The Apprentice's specially treasured books), so I thought it would be worthwhile reading. Anyway, right near it was Susan Goldman Rubin's The Yellow House, a picture book about Van Gogh and Gauguin's short-lived experiment as housemates.

It's a really wonderful story of how two very different artists with different outlooks and different styles looked at the world. Sometimes when we study individual artists, we don't realize that many of them did know each other and did draw on each others' work for inspiration. This idea comes across simply enough that even young children can understand: Van Gogh prefers yellow, Gauguin favours red; Van Gogh is messy, Gauguin is neat; Van Gogh likes to paint from what he sees, while Gauguin works more from his imagination. Van Gogh's attempt at a Gauguin-style painting is particularly interesting, and so are his two chair paintings that are supposed to reflect their two personalities: they remind me of Papa Bear's chair and Mama Bear's chair! (Except for the second-last page and an optional biographical page at the back, this book goes easy on the Van Gogh ear-cutting incident and other messy details.)

The text on the last page is disappointing: "Working side by side, the artists inspired and challenged each other. Today the paintings still glow with their emotion and energy." I don't think that was exactly the point of the book--I think it's a study in contrasts and a good look at the point where two lives briefly intersected. Definitely worth looking for.

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