Monday, September 7, 2009

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting

We loosely follow Charlotte Mason principles in our homeschool, so the girls and I spend some time studying art and artists. I heard about Hugh Brewster's book, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting, on a CM Yahoo group, and ordered our copy from Used Books. The girls and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As this is a book about art, the illustrations are top-notch. The book as a whole is reminiscent of a scrapbook, complete with photos, sketches, parts of letters, and painting reproductions. Captions and pull quotes are in "handwritten" fonts, lending even more of an album feel. All of these touches bring the story to life.

However, what really elevates this book from merely good to excellent is the quality of the narrative itself. Told from the perspective of Kate Millet, the daughter of Frank and Lily Millet, the story is lively and engaging. Americans who resided in the Cotswolds village of Broadway for several months each year, the Millets often invited other artists and writers to visit them in the summers. (To read a fun and informative article about the "Broadway circle," complete with photos, click here.) The American painter John Singer Sargent was one of their frequent guests. In August of 1885, Sargent arrives in Broadway to create "a painting that will make people simply rave with pleasure" (page 4). And from there the story unfolds.

In the Author's Note, Brewster writes that the story is a "fictionalized account . . . but is based on real events (and) . . . hews fairly closely to occurrences described in Lucia Millet's letters home and in the recollections of other members of the Broadway circle." Brewster successfully weaves several different textures into the narrative. Not only does he present the story of a particular painting, we also learn about Impressionism, Sargent's unique style of painting, artistic inspiration, and how friends and family impact an artist's work, to name a few.

The story entranced us and made us want to know more. Brewster helpfully includes a selected bibliograpy for further research, and we were inspired to do our own inquiry. Since we learned from the book that the painting now hangs in the Tate Gallery in London, we visited their website and found the correct entry. Then we Googled the painting title and located this article, which goes into even more detail about the painting's creation. When we make our visit to England (planned tentatively for 2011), Sargent's painting is a must-see for us.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting is a true achievement: accessible for early elementary children as a read-aloud, intriguing for older children, and fascinating for adults. The book represents education in its highest form: it lights a fire.

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