This graphic, somewhat fictionalized biography of Claude Monet seamlessly combines his art and life to offer a new perspective of the ground-breaking Impressionist. The story begins with Monet undergoing an operation for cataracts. As he lies in bed, eyes bandaged, terrified of losing his sight, his mind goes back to his childhood and the first day he saw the light…

As a child, Monet was restless and troublesome, refusing to learn a trade or fall in with his family’s wishes; he only wanted to paint. When he encountered the artist M. Boudin; he first saw the beauty of the natural world and the effects of light, beginning a lifelong quest to paint the light. Monet struggles in the art world in Paris, frustrated by the rules and traditions that stifle his art, but he also meets some like-minded artists. Together, they determine to go up against the Salon; the most powerful institution in the art world, putting on their own art show, the Salon des Refuses in 1863, or Salon of Rejects. Shattered by repeated failures, dogged by creditors, and with the worries of his lover, Camille, and her child, Monet retires to the country, finding patrons and new inspiration. His troubles are not yet over however, and through the tumultuous years that follow he suffers through poverty, love affairs, the death of friends and family, and war, all while still maintaining his fanatic devotion to paint the light.

As the story returns full circle, Monet slowly comes to realize that his vision has become accepted; he is no longer a rebel, but a respected artist. He has security, a home, and all the light that he can paint. However, his losses are not yet over. As he continues to paint in his home in Giverny, success coming too late for his first wife Camille, he sees the death of friends and artists, family and supporters. Finally, he is an old man, nearly blind, but still following his vision—to paint the light and the natural world. The story ends with a panoramic view of the lily ponds, Monet’s final and most well-known inspiration.

The art is created to mimic both Monet’s style and his actual paintings. Segments of the story are set to recreate his most famous portraits, as well as some of his friends’ work. Back matter includes reproductions of the works as well as the panels that are in homage to the art. Efa’s art captures the light, moment, and emotional struggle of Monet’s life while making his art more emotional and relatable, smoothing rough lines, defining colors, and focusing on the faces that Monet never cared to depict. Efa’s art exposes the human side of Monet’s world, focuses on the faces and personalities he was indifferent to in his own pursuit of light. The creators blend Monet’s own words and art to create a cohesive story, painting a picture of the man behind the pictures. Poverty, art, friends and enemies come to life in this recreation of Monet’s life and work.

Rubio ends the story with a discussion of some of the more fictionalized aspect of the book, as well as the elements taken directly from primary sources, letters, and history. On the one hand, this is a gorgeous depiction of Monet’s life, from his tumultuous first years as an artist to his more peaceful, if lonely, life in his middle age and late years. The emphasis on Monet’s dedication to seeing the light shines through the whole book; the moment when he realizes that he no longer needs to struggle against an opposition that no longer exists is profound and the art transports the reader to the squalid streets of Paris, contemptuous art critics, and the peace and quiet of the country. Readers interested in Monet’s life and work will be fascinated and young adults just starting to learn about the great artists will find this a unique introduction.

On the other hand, in some ways this book almost recreates what Monet fought against in the first place—a canon of art and artists that accepted no new ideas, no diversity, and no change. From a human point of view, Monet abandoned his lover to poverty and illness, allowed his family to starve for his dedication to art, and was unfaithful to his wife, bringing his lover and her family back to his home to suffer the same privations as his own family. There is only a brief mention of Berthe Morisot, and the even greater challenges she faced as a woman and artist. In other words, do we really need another book about Monet?

Ultimately, it’s up to your own collection’s needs. This book is definitely aimed at older teens to adults; it includes nudity, references to Monet’s love affairs, and stark depictions of poverty and the suffering of his family. If you have interest in the great artists of the Western tradition, readers who will want to explore the human stories behind their paintings, and an interest in the history and development of modern art and culture, this will make an excellent addition to your collection. NBM has additional titles on artists planned for the future and it will be interesting to see who they choose to depict and how their stories are told.

Monet: Itinerant of Light
by Salvia Rubio
Art by EFA
ISBN: 9781681121390
NBM, 2017

  • Jennifer

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Matheson Memorial Library

    Reviewer

    Jennifer Wharton is the Youth Services Librarian at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin where she maintains the juvenile and young adult graphic novel collections and was responsible for creating the library’s adult graphic novel collection. She is constantly looking for great new comics for kids and teens and new ways to incorporate graphic storytelling in programming. Jennifer blogs for preschool through middle grade at JeanLittleLibrary and has an MLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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