Vincent van Gogh supposedly shot himself in the middle of a wheat field and later walked a mile to his house to lie down. Leave it to his friends baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and happy-go-lucky Count Henri Toulouse-Lautrec to suspect Vincent’s suicide. Vincent’s mention of a mysterious Colorman he was afraid of triggers his friends’ investigation. In their quest they meet the suspected man and a goddess determined to elicit passion and inspiration from her subjects but at a steep price.
Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore is an absorbing, fascinating account of the use of the color blue in paintings up to the height of the Impressionism. The story begins with the apparent suicide of Vincent van Gogh and evolves into the quest of two of his closest friends— painters Lucien Lessard and Count Henri Toulouse-Lautrec— to find the connection between Vincent’s madness and his use of the color blue.
A wild ride is in order through the brothels, bars and cafés of late nineteenth century Paris while the Impressionist movement makes its mark in history. Sacré Bleu brings to life Impressionist painters, their lives and their inspirations. We get to know Monet, Pisarro and Renoir in addition to Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Degas makes a devastating guest appearance and leaves bitterness in its wake.
Sacré Bleu is utterly funny but an odd story the like of which I’d never read. I laughed out loud but also drove me slightly to obsession as I tried to guess the key ingredient in the blue paint that drove all those painters to madness, alcohol and drugs.
In summary, Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore is a funny ride, with mystery and obsession as backdrops and deeply odd but utterly satisfying.
“Blue is the sky, the sea, a god’s eye, a devil’s tail, a birth, a strangulation, a virgin’s cloak, a monkey’s ass. It’s a butterfly, a bird, a spicy joke, the saddest song, the brightest day.
Blue is sly, slick, it slides into the room sideways, a slippery trickster.
This is a story about the color blue, and like blue, there’s nothing true about it. Blue is beauty, not truth. ‘True blue’ is a ruse, a rhyme; it’s there, then it’s not. Blue is a deeply sneaky color.
Even deep blue is shallow.
Blue is glory and power, a wave, a particle, a vibration, a resonance, a spirit, a passion, a memory, a vanity, a metaphor, a dream.
Blue is a simile.
Blue, she is like a woman.” Prelude in Blue
“’That’s not what I meant,’ said Gachet. ‘I mean, yes, he may have been under the influence of some chemical compound, but I’m not sure that Vincent killed himself.’
‘But your wife said he confessed it when he came to your house,’ said Pisarro. ‘He said, ‘this is my doing.’
‘That was enough for the constable, and at first, I didn’t question it. But think: who shoots himself in the chest, then walks a mile to the doctor? This is not the action of a man who wants to end his life.’” Page 179-180
“Lucien watched the master laying down the color, the white and pink of the water lilies, the gray-green of the willows reflected on the surface of the water, the muted umber and slate blue of the sky in the water. Monet worked as if there was no thought process involved at all—his mind was simply the conduit to move color from his eye to the canvas, like the court stenographer who might transcribe a whole trial, every word going from his ear to the paper, yet remain unaware of what had transpired in the courtroom. Monet had trained himself to be a machine for the harvest of color. With brush in hand, he was no longer a man, a father, or a husband, but a device of singular purpose; he was, as he had always introduced himself, the painter Monet.” Page 240