CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 6 . . . .November 9, 2007
Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting.
Hugh Brewster. Paintings and Drawings by John Singer Sargent.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2007.
48 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Sargent, John Singer, 1856-1925. Carnation, lily, lily, rose-Juvenile fiction.
Sargent, John Singer, 1856-1925 -Juvenile fiction.
Millet, Kate, fl. 1885-1886-Juvenile fiction.
Broadway (Worcestershire, England)-Juvenile fiction.
Sargent, John Singer, 1856-1925-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Ann Stinner.
One day two men carried an absolutely HUGE white canvas out of the barn. It was far too big to put on an easel, so it sat on the ground held up by some pieces of wood. Mr. Sargent had to peer around the side of it to see me. He would look fiercely at me and then make wide strokes over the canvas with a piece of charcoal. I tried holding my breath so as not to move.
And so we read of young Kate Millet's role as artist's model for the young painter, John Singer Sargent, as he starts work on the large painting which would be featured in the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1887 and which today hangs in the Tate Gallery in London. The painting in question is Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, created over the summers of 1885 and 1886 in the garden of Kate's parents in Broadway, Worcestershire.
This book, by Toronto author Hugh Brewster, which provides readers with a richly-detailed, fictionalized account of the creation of this famous painting, is based on contemporary letters and other writings, photographs and sketches. Readers see events through the eyes of dark-haired Kate Millet who, though originally chosen as a model for the painting, is eventually rejected in favour of two blonde models. We follow Kate's emotional trajectory: from shock, sadness and jealousy, through relief and curiosity, and finally to pride and celebration as she views the huge painting at the 1887 Exhibition. Along the way, Kate - and we - experience life with the "Broadway Circle," a delightfully bohemian group of artists and writers (including Kate's father), learn about Sargent's creative process and his personality (he was both shy and intimidating), gain insight into the rigours of being an artist's model, and - on an emotional level - discover how to deal with disappointment.
Kate's reminiscences are beautifully enhanced by the design of this book. As we read, we are reminded of leafing through the pages of a Victorian scrapbook or illustrated journal, complete with old photos and postcards, flowers and other memorabilia. Also included are wonderful sketches and smaller paintings by Sargent (including an actual portrait of Kate), plus works by other contemporary artists, all seamlessly integrated into the storyline. The dark green William Morris-like endpapers also support the late nineteenth century look.
Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose offers young readers a fine introduction to art history and, in particular, a vivid context for appreciating this important early work of Sargent. It is especially interesting to learn, as Kate does, about the challenges faced by the artist, such as his attempt to capture in a single painting the contrasting effects of twilight and the glow of Japanese lanterns.
Special features included at the end of the book encourage readers to look beyond Kate's story: an epilogue which describes through words and pictures the rest of Kate's life, biographies of John Singer Sargent and the other characters in the book, a list of the sources of all the paintings and sketches, and a bibliography for further reading. And on the last page, an author's note hints at an answer to what every reader will wonder: How much of this engrossing story is actually true?
Ann Stinner is a former art education instructor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
(Editor's note: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting has been shortlisted for a Governor General's Literary Award in the category of children's literature - English language text.)
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