Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland: Art, WWII, and France



Book Cover Lisettes List by Susan Vreeland
I have read most of Susan Vreeland's books since reading her first novel The Girl in Hyacinth Blue about Vermeer's painting "Girl With a Pearl Earring". My favorite book by Vreeland was The Forest Lover about Canadian artist Emily Carr who defied societal expectations to live with, so as to paint, the Northwest Coast Native Americans and their quickly vanishing culture. Vreeland's books always center around art.

Vreeland's previous novels were fictional accounts of specific artists. Her
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Susan Vreeland
newest book's main character is an art lover, Lisette, a Parisian who grew up in an orphanage. The book begins in 1937 when Lisette's husband Andre' wants to return to his home town of  Roussillion in Provence to care for his elderly grandfather.

Grandfather Pascal was a framer of art. As a boy he worked in the local  ochre mines. Ochre was processed to make paint pigment for artists. Many 'starving artists' were unable to afford frames and paid Pascal in paintings. His collection grew to eight paintings by Cezanne, Pissarro, and Picasso. I happen to love the art of Pissarro and Cezanne.

Pascal tells Lisette the stories behind each artist's painting in his collection, an oral history that reveals information about the artist's life and work. Each painting includes ochre pigments.
WWII comes to France and Andre' enlists in the army. Before he leaves he hides the paintings to keep them safe. The Nazi regime considered modern art as 'decadent' and destroyed many paintings. Pascal dies and Lisette is left to fend for herself, learning the ways of country life in Provence.

Marc Chagall and his wife Bella live nearby for a time. As Jews they were seeking safety before immigration to America. Lisette befriends the couple and Marc gives Lisette a special painting.

After the war ends Lisette searches for the missing paintings for several years. To keep Lisette safe, Andre' did not tell her where the paintings were hidden.

Lisette's list consisted of things she wanted to accomplish, from finding her husband's grave to understanding art.

The village of Roussillion and the importance of ochre in the paintings is central to the book, with the paintings, which all used the ochre pigments, illustrating it's importance. The village is filled with interesting characters who Lisette comes to love.

Read Vreeland's article on her inspiration for the book, showing the ochre mines and pigments of Roussillion  here.

See a gallery of art from the book here.

Lisette's List
by Susan Vreeland
Random House
Publication: August 26, 2014
Pages: 432 | ISBN: 978-1-4000-6817-3