La Luministe, a Lush Art Novel by Paula Butterfield

When I heard about this book, I knew I’d buy it. There are books like that. Since I’m an Impressionism geek and feminist, when I heard that Paula Butterfield had written a novel about Berthe Morisot, one of the few women on the forefront of the Impressionist movement, I was thrilled.

Then I learned that my Victorine Meurent, the main character of my novel, makes an appearance in La Luministe, and I squealed. (A fun thing is that Morisot shows up in my book briefly as well.)

If someone had asked me what I’d like a novel written about, I’d have said this. And I wasn’t disappointed.

But before I discuss the content, let’s look at the cover. You’ve got this amazing painting, At the Ball, by Morisot, which depicts a woman with a fan. Here, though, the painting is partially, tantalizingly, obscured. If you continue your gaze downward, you’ll be rewarded by a bit of what we assume is an easel, complete with a lovely, paint-spattered brush at the bottom. That brush! I want to hold it.

As one who has carefully studied mid-19th century Parisian art history and its chief players, I greatly admired and enjoyed the story, once I allowed my gaze to stray beyond that fabulous cover. In fact, Butterfield assumes the mantle of our “luministe” as she enlightens us about what it was like to be a painter during a time when respectable women did not paint beyond pretty little scenes to make them seem accomplished to suitable husbands.

Though artist Berthe Morisot sustains a lifelong longing for the unobtainable Edouard Manet, she manages to break free from both society and familial expectations enough to become a painter of note herself in the newly bourgeoning Impressionist movement. In the end, she ultimately finds herself at “repose,” as one of Manet’s paintings of her is titled.

This book is moving, well researched, and told with painstaking detail. It was a delight to read.