Monet: Itinerant of Light
There have been a number of European-published graphic novel biographies about artists translated into English, but Monet: Itinerant of Light, written by Salva Rubio and illustrated by Efa, is the best of them I’ve read.
For one thing, this book doesn’t require you already knowing about the protagonist’s life to understand what’s going on. All of the basics are laid out clearly, and the significance of other important figures is either presented or understandable through context.
Monet’s art is also a substantial influence on the look of the book, with key pictures evoked through panel compositions. There is an extensive section at the end of the volume, reproducing some of Monet’s most famous works (also beneficial for those not as familiar with his career) and pointing out the comparisons.
Monet was one of the founders of Impressionism, working to capture light and color instead of objects on canvas. His works are gorgeous, but for much of his life, his story was not a happy one. He might be the quintessential “starving artist”, and it’s unfortunate that he had two families depending on him.
As a young Parisian, he struggled with both wanting acceptance by the art establishment, so he could make a living painting, and maintaining his commitment to portray true, natural light, against the accepted style. That’s reflected in the colors of this book, all natural browns, greens, and blues, as can be seen in these preview pages.
He had a child with Camille, his mistress and model, but to continue his family’s support and avoid being cut off, he left her to have the baby without him. The book is narrated by Monet’s voice, giving us sympathy to his feelings and drives, but when his actions are contemplated, he wasn’t a very good person. In spite of living in poverty, he was unwilling to give up art, although he finally marries the mother of his children.
Thankfully, he finds a patron — although that merchant winds up going bankrupt, and Monet takes up with his wife, having children with her as well, and eventually living with both women and their children.
Monet’s devotion to his art can be hard to understand, but the scene where Monet, seeing Camille on her deathbed, is struck by the shades he sees, painting like “a beast, grinding at the mill”, slave to his compulsion to view light and color, is enlightening as to what that might be like.
Finally, Renoir convinces him to give up on his ideological purity and accept attention from the Salon, the establishment authority, to support his family. Only those who are wealthy can afford to be so stringent about their independence, and Monet settles into a new phase of life as he ages. He’s one of the few master artists who lived long enough to see his genius recognized.
Monet: Itinerant of Light is an excellent overview of his life and work, with emphasis on the latter, as he would have wished it. (The publisher provided a review copy.)