Did you ever think about where colors come from? I mean, when you’re not high, for real think about it? I never gave it much thought before reading Christopher Moore’s ‘Comedy D’Art’ Sacré Bleu, and now I find myself thinking about it all the damn time.
Sacré Bleu is so named because it revolves around a very specific shade of blue, an ultramarine so pure and vibrant that it’s very hard to duplicate & often was reserved for paintings of the Blessed Virgin. What Moore tries to do here is give us a back story for the pigment, a creation story for the color. Along the way, Moore created his own sort of fairy tale around a group of legendary painters – most notably Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and Monsieurs Monet & Manet, along with his own made up cast of characters in 1890s France – that is quirky and mysterious, tinged with tragedy and unexpected moments of poignancy, and most of all memorable. While Sacré Bleu is not as hilarious as some of his other books (for me, Lamb still ranks as one of the most amusing books ever), it was fun and weird and fantastic and somehow almost scholarly. (At least it made me feel marginally smarter, having read it.)
First things first – being a Christopher Moore work of historical fiction, I can not tell you how much of the creation of the pigments used by artists of that time is factual. It seemed like a lot of it was right, but I’m not an art history major, and – while Moore made entertaining and intriguing through his story, once I had finished reading, I didn’t really care enough to do that much more research on it. I think it’s safe to bet, though, that the real method that the Colorman (the mysterious pigment purveyor) uses to create his color (which I will not give away, due to its Spoiler-ish nature) was not an actual method used by the great painters to create their masterpieces. But it’s fun to imagine it might have been.
The highlights of the book are Moore’s attention to detail – being able to, if you will pardon the expression, paint such a clear setting that you do feel as if you’ve got a firsthand view of the Paris these masters were inhabiting – and his just slightly off kilter perspective that keeps the story from venturing into lecture land, making historical people seem like people rather than history (which, if you’ve ever had a bad history professor, you know sucks all the joy out of them every having actually been alive).
Example: “Are you not a painter as well” asked Manet, noting paint on the cuffs of Renoir’s jacket. “Well, yes, but I find it better not to announce it at the outset, in case I need to borrow money.”
These aren’t just a bunch of long-dead fuddyduddies, these are guys who compete with each other, collaborate with each other, drink with each other, mourn with each other, and, at the same time, try to paint the next thing to take the entire art world by storm.
Sacré Bleu might have been a little bit deeper than I was expecting from a Christopher Moore book (this was not all the chuckles, is all I’m saying), but it was still very enjoyable, and – for a person with no painting ability whatsoever – only adds weight to my theory that painters are actually magicians or wizards, because I don’t understand how that can happen otherwise.