"THE CLASSIEST NOVEL FROM OXFORD SINCE PHILIP PULLMAN’S NORTHERN LIGHTS" Jane Theroux, Amazon
A luscious, historical novel depicting Belle Epoch Paris at the rupture point when the old regime breaks down and is replaced by modernity in both life and art. Picasso is the rock god of the age. Multi-layered and full of surprises – Doucet’s mystery unlocked, like “the Painting” itself provides a prism of vibrant and tragic tales. Featuring many key characters of the era, Picasso’s Revenge is a cultural milestone.
Claire Palmer, Editor, International Times
This book is a rare diamond found in a gold mine. The history is so rich and told in such a way that a reader can learn much from its pages. The characters are real people and this adds to the mysticism of the novel. Explained exquisitely, the setting brings Paris to life. The descriptions of the artwork give the reader the feeling as though they are right in front of the works, taking in the glory of every brush stroke and feeling the cool marble of the sculptures. The plot is exciting as well as adventurous. An avid lover of history or art will find much to love about this book.
I will tell you honestly, the agonizing tension is one of the things that I loved most. I felt almost out of control right along with Jacques while he was battling with the painting. I truly loved it. I understand that it could be hard to write together, but I never noticed any differences in voice, just the agony that Doucet was going through while trying to put it all together. I also found it interesting that he went through this agony almost all of his adult life which is amazing to me. To be so invested in something to the point of madness is tragic.
My solitary complaint is that some chapters are too long. This is a personal preference due to my strange need for instant gratification that comes from similar sized chapters. Yet, this in no way detracts from the beauty or the message of the novel. I could not have asked for a more wonderful story.
Thus, I award this book 5 out of 5 stars. Lovers of the mystery genre will find this book much to their taste. History and art rule the day in this fantastic narrative and it has been my pleasure to read and write a review of this magnificent work.
The astonishing fact is that the world’s most influential painting is little known. Even Picasso himself seemed afraid of it and hid it away for 10 years after painting it. When dressmaker Doucet bought the first cubist painting and relentlessly pursued its dangerous mystery he found the holy grail of art – the question of how modern art ever came about. This extraordinary novel rebrands Picasso no less. Rich, mysterious and splendid. A cultural masterpiece.
Sylvia Vetta, novelist/art specialist
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This is a stunning book, and I am still reeling - at the erudition for a start. So much knowledge should weight a book down, not send the reader hurtling through a vortex of great passions, great men (and occasional women), great idea and great art. I. But I was there, feeling, wondering at, virtually experiencing these seismic shifts in meaning. And on the verge of tears at the final picture of the painting, in situ, and the impossibility of ever experiencing what sounded like an amazing culmination of a vision that had come to take over Doucet’s whole life.
The language really annoyed me at first. I have a reasonable working vocabulary, and am not accustomed to needing a dictionary by my side as I read. It was absurdly florid. And then it became weirdly clunky and angular (not helped by a few sentences I would swear are actual grammatical mistakes). But then, along with Art Deco, it became plain and lucid. Was this an intentional mirroring of the periods covered? If so, it took me a long time to grasp, but the authors may be aiming at more able readers. Certainly the angularity and departure from English as I know it fitted Cubism well.
At first I wasn't sure I love some of Picasso’s work, but a book about a single painting? Yet I am so glad I read it. Yes, I did need a dictionary to hand in the early chapters. Yes, it required – but richly rewarded – considerable concentration. Yes, it has left me with a long list of things to find out more about (I feel like Helene in 84 Charing Cross Road) that I did not even realise I needed to know. Yes, there are questions I shall probably ponder for the rest of my life, about non – attachment and art and art collection. And yes, my heart is still breaking for Jacques, and his passion, and his achievement and its transience.
The book was – eventually – gripping, un settling, frame-changing, thought provoking. How could two people have worked together to create something so coherent?
Sheila Cameron, Author
A fascinating book; not merely for fans of Picasso [who is not?] but also for anyone with an interest in the cultural currents that moved minds and spirits in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century. I read it right through, with never faltering interest- rare indeed. And, for those with appetite for such things, there is a mystery, still unresolved, both Romantic and art-historical: a puzzle as yet unsolved involving a fine, sensitive young woman badly married, a prodigious young artist and the painting which changed the world. If you ask me, I would say buy it, read it, enjoy it without delay.
Robert Lipscombe, Author
I finished your book and enjoyed it very much. I learnt quite a bit about the art world and it also brought back memories of companies I had forgotten all about - House of Worth & Helena Rubenstein!
In this ambitious debut novel, father and daughter co-authors Ray and Caroline Foulk set forth “art’s greatest untold story,” the intersection of the lives of two celebrated men around one of the “most influential” but “barely known” paintings. In the early 1920s, French couturier and art collector Jacques Doucet (1853-1929), the founder of the renown, immensely- successful, Belle Epoque, Parisian fashion house bearing his name and a pillar of the establishment in France, acquired one of the world’s most shocking paintings, Pablo Ruiz Picasso’s (1881-1973), Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, a representation of brothel prostitutes.
Believing the work had a connection to his former lover Madame Sonia Roux, who died 14 years earlier when her husband poisoned her, the fashion designer embarked upon an obsessive quest to better understand his lover’s death, the painting, and his previous descent in the world of the Parisian surrealists and occultists. Nearly destroying his health, marriage, reputation, financial well-being, and other aspects of his life, Doucet discovered modern art’s incredible genesis and built a Temple of Arts-- his “Studio”-- in his Rue St. James home in a Parisian suburb that showcased the painting and his significant collection of western and non-western fine and decorative arts objects. On his deathbed, he put to “rest his own demons.”
While some readers may find this appropriately subtitled “art detective story” to be lengthy and difficult to follow for a number of reasons, it has a lot to recommend it. Firstly, it is based upon the lives of real and convincing characters. The authors tried to stay as faithful as possible to Picasso’s story and to all that we know about the real characters of the time, some of whom were quite obscure or unknown. Secondly, the themes of the book— relating to unrequited, lost love, a mysterious death, protracted grief, madness, artistic struggle, man’s struggle with God, the occult world, Belle Ėpoque Paris, developments in the fashion industry, avant-garde art, impotency, suicide, scandal, and more —make for compelling, fascinating reading.
Based upon significant research undertaken by the authors over the course of thirty years and resumed and continued for over a decade beginning in 2005, this masterful novel by an expert father and daughter team will interest art aficionados, scholars, historical fiction buffs, fashion enthusiasts, architects, and others. It belongs in many large public and some academic and special libraries with extensive or highly focused art book collections. Strongly recommended.
C. A. Lajos, Goodreads
This is a fascinating and superly-researched read about a painting that (to be honest) I didn't fully appreciate until I read this book. Apparently, Picasso's painting of the prostitutes of Avignon was considered such a radical departure from established art that he couldn't get rid of it. The courtier and art collector, Jacques Doucet, buys it on the understanding that he can get it into the Louvre - which is a struggle.
There is a tragic love story (actually more than one) and the book reads as a mystery as much as anything.
The Belle Epoque is brought brilliantly alive with famous names and works of art. It really made me appreciate what a special moment in history it was with a foment of ideas about art and thought and modernity.
This is a stunning if occasionally frustrating book. Despite its erudition – you might think so much knowledge would weigh a book down – it sent me hurtling through a vortex of great passions, great men (and occasional women), great ideas and great art. I was there, in the early years of C19, with Picasso and his circle, wondering at, virtually experiencing these seismic shifts in meaning. I was there as the top couturier Doucet struggled with his purchase of Picasso’s controversial ‘Demoiselles (aka prostitutes) with its long term disruption of his life. I was heartbroken that I could not visit the picture in its original setting, and marvel at Doucet’s total dedication, at huge personal cost, to getting this right.
Admittedly the florid language annoyed me at first, but then I realised it was part of what created such a strong sense of time and place. And gradually, the language clarified, along with the contemporary design style.
A summary of the book would not have tempted me to read. I find Picasso interesting, but not interesting enough to want to read so long a book about a single painting. But in a way Picasso was incidental. It was the passion of Doucet which gradually drew me in. It was heavy going at first, but perseverance was richly rewarded. It worked well as a novel, but because it was so firmly based on a deep understanding of the period, it taught me a huge amount about the period And yes, it has left me (like Helene in 84 Charing Cross Road) with a long list of things to find out more about, things I did not even realise I wanted to know, and made me think more about non–attachment in the context of art and the role of art collectors.
The book was – eventually – gripping, unsettling, frame-changing, thought provoking, raising questions I shall probably ponder for the rest of my life. How could two people have worked together to create something so coherent? I am glad I persevered with the initial chapters. It is a book I shall read again, and perhaps yet again.
Olga Miret, Goodreads
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Caroline Foulk, author