By: Anne Girard
Format/Source: Paperback; won from a contest held by guiltless reading
When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world.
A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can’t help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso’s life.
Omg you guys, I’m finally reading this book! I won this book in a giveaway contest hosted by guiltless reading in 2014 but I stalled on picking it up. It always felt like a spring read to me so I did make a note to myself to pick it up this sometime this year. Which I finally did, huzzah!
Madame Picasso did for Eva Gouel what The Paris Wife (review) did for Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife. I know of Picasso the artist, of course, but I knew nothing about his personal life except of his extreme passions, obsessions, and numerous affairs. So in that sense this book was quite revealing to me as to who Pablo Picasso was as a person; by the end of the novel, I was keen to look up more on his life and take a closer look for the first time at his work and the progression of his work over the decades and the impact of his personal life on his work. But the novel also puts the spotlight on little-known Eva Gouel, her impact on Picasso’s life and work, and a fictionalised take on her own life. I thought she was a marvellous character on a road of forging a life for herself–running off to Paris from her provincial town to work as a seamstress, the costumer at the Moulin Rouge–and coming into her own in Picasso’s world of artists and intellectuals. They were both fascinating characters in their own right, their love story intense but also bittersweet. That last scene…All the feels.
But what I especially love about this novel, and I mentioned it on Litsy, is how it brings early 20th century Paris to life and the vibrant art and cultures scene that it nurtured. I love historical novels set in this period and during the Belle Epoque because of all the artists, writers, and thinkers that came and went, socialised, and influenced, and this book was no exception. All of the people that Picasso knew, how close he was with them, the ideas they discussed and the art they created–it was absolutely exciting to read those scenes too. As an aside, I had no idea he was implicated in the Mona Lisa being stolen around that time–wow!
I don’t know what else to say about Madame Picasso except that I greatly enjoyed it and learned a lot about Pablo Picasso’s life and what the art scene was like during his period working with Cubism. If there’s any quibbles I had about this book, it’s that despite of it being 400 pages long, at times it felt like large gaps of time were glossed over, even though they had only been together for several years. Nonetheless, I can’t believe it took me how many years to get around to reading this novel, I couldn’t quite stop reading once I started! Readers of historical fiction and those interested in the arts and cultural scene in the early 20th century will want to check this novel out, Anne Girard did a wonderful job in bringing these historical characters and the period to life 🙂