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The Masterpiece is the tragic story of Claude Lantier, an ambitious and talented young artist who has come from the provinces to conquer Paris but is conquered instead by the flaws of his own genius. Set in the 1860s and 1870s, it is the most autobiographical of the twenty novels in Zola's Rougon-Macquart series. It provides a unique insight into Zola's career as a writer and his relationship with Cezanne, a friend since their schooldays in Aix-en-Provence. It also presents a well-documented account of the turbulent Bohemian world in which the Impressionists came to prominence despite the conservatism of the Academy and the ridicule of the general public.

464 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1886

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About the author

Émile Zola

2,522 books3,631 followers
Émile François Zola was an influential French novelist, the most important example of the literary school of naturalism, and a major figure in the political liberalization of France.

More than half of Zola's novels were part of a set of 20 books collectively known as Les Rougon-Macquart. Unlike Balzac who in the midst of his literary career resynthesized his work into La Comédie Humaine, Zola from the start at the age of 28 had thought of the complete layout of the series. Set in France's Second Empire, the series traces the "environmental" influences of violence, alcohol and prostitution which became more prevalent during the second wave of the Industrial Revolution. The series examines two branches of a family: the respectable (that is, legitimate) Rougons and the disreputable (illegitimate) Macquarts for five generations.

As he described his plans for the series, "I want to portray, at the outset of a century of liberty and truth, a family that cannot restrain itself in its rush to possess all the good things that progress is making available and is derailed by its own momentum, the fatal convulsions that accompany the birth of a new world."

Although Zola and Cézanne were friends from childhood, they broke in later life over Zola's fictionalized depiction of Cézanne and the Bohemian life of painters in his novel L'Œuvre (The Masterpiece, 1886).

From 1877 with the publication of L'Assommoir, Émile Zola became wealthy, he was better paid than Victor Hugo, for example. He became a figurehead among the literary bourgeoisie and organized cultural dinners with Guy de Maupassant, Joris-Karl Huysmans and other writers at his luxurious villa in Medan near Paris after 1880. Germinal in 1885, then the three 'cities', Lourdes in 1894, Rome in 1896 and Paris in 1897, established Zola as a successful author.

The self-proclaimed leader of French naturalism, Zola's works inspired operas such as those of Gustave Charpentier, notably Louise in the 1890s. His works, inspired by the concepts of heredity (Claude Bernard), social manichaeism and idealistic socialism, resonate with those of Nadar, Manet and subsequently Flaubert.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 354 reviews
Profile Image for Lisa.
991 reviews3,320 followers
June 10, 2017
Strange how life imitates art in so many ways.

When Zola wrote his artist novel, he could look back on decades of creative pain, shared with the painters of the era, and most notably with his childhood friend Paul Cézanne. Would Zola have been THE realist writer of his time if he hadn't attempted to describe the struggle of the emerging impressionist movement in at least one of his installments of the Rougon-Macquart series? Would he have been Zola if he hadn't succeeded in describing it in such a way that the realism of the fictional characters reminded readers of the actual people he was surrounded by?

Would Cézanne, on the other hand, have been the sensitive, self-conscious and obsessively engaged artist if he hadn't taken the novel badly, seeing only himself and his supposed failure in the character Claude Lantier?

Somehow, Zola had to write the story of the unhappy artist and his striving for the perfect painting, and somehow Cézanne had to respond by breaking the lifelong friendship and correspondence:

"Mon cher Émile,
I’ve just received L’Œuvre, which you were kind enough to send me. I thank the author of the Rougon-Macquart for this kind token of remembrance, and ask him to allow me to wish him well, thinking of years gone by.
Ever yours with the feeling of time passing,
Paul Cézanne"

However, despite time passing, both Zola and Cézanne have stayed, and enjoy a posthumous success they may not have been able to imagine in their wildest dreams and hopes. Theirs is a heritage of literature and art in perfect companionship, showing the 19th century world in transition - from different angles and perspectives, in different colours and textures. To conquer Paris with an apple, was Cézanne's idea, to analyse humanity with the narrow perspective of one single family in all their ugly facets, was Zola's.

They both succeeded through reiterated and passionate failures. They sacrificed everything - including friendship, and felt the pain of Claude Lantier in different ways. But they did not end like the tragic literary character, and that is the main difference between life and art. A novel or a canvas can be brought to an end, but the creators continue their struggles and failures.

The symbolic suicide of Lantier in front of his work of art clearly sets him off from real artists (with the exception of Van Gogh, maybe, whose life took on mythological dimensions after his violent end), and moves him into the realm of classical literature. His friends, the surviving characters, sum it up at the end of the novel: he dared to be consequential in his knowledge of ultimate failure regarding the pursuit of the perfect masterpiece, while they liked their bodies too much to follow through to the bitter end.

"Allons travailler", their closing remarks after Lantier's suicide, can be placed halfway between Voltaire's positive message in Candide, celebrating private work and thrifty engagement as a means to escape the madness of the world ("Il faut cultiver notre jardin"), and Sartre's existentialist Hell in Huis clos, suivi de Les mouches, where the last sentence: "Continuons", symbolises complete surrender and hopeless frustration. Zola's characters are not forced into their painful eternal situation like Sartre's love triangle - they choose it because they believe in the importance of their message, failure or not.

Zola's literary synthesis of the birth of the modern art movement, including elements of Monet, Manet and of course Cézanne, is a masterpiece within his ambitious novel project, a perfect mirror of the times and ideas. And it is the dramatic nucleus for his failed friendship in real life - the point of no return, where Zola chose to be a writer more than anything else, at any cost. In that respect, he showed himself to be a Claude Lantier!

One of my favourite Zolas! Recommended!
Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,648 followers
June 30, 2021
Goodness gracious - I inhaled this. Great characters, amazing descriptions, incredibly depressing ruminations on the perils of the creative life. The arc of it is Zola-esque, apparently - a balloon deflating in slow motion. I waited for a while to try him, and I'm already excited to read more.
Profile Image for sAmAnE.
589 reviews88 followers
February 25, 2022
این کتاب رو به اندازه‌ی بقیه‌ی کتاب‌های زولا دوست نداشتم. داستانش خیلی برام جذاب نبود. ولی از خوندنش اصلا پشیمون نیستم.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,050 reviews4,119 followers
January 25, 2012
You have this friend, a writer. He’s written this terrible bildungsroman about his tedious student exploits, I Want Vagina. You tell him tactfully that a 900-page, unspellchecked homage to sexual frustration doesn’t fly in the marketplace. Your friend scurries off and signs up for a Creative Writing MA at Dorset Polytechnic, taught by Vernon D. Burns. He returns, a few months later, with a new 900-page spellchecked homage to sexual frustration, I Want to Squeeze Bosoms. You arrange for him to lose his virginity so his art might progress by dialling a friendly helpline for that purpose (Callgirlz2nite). He returns a year later with a new epic, I Love Sleeping With Whores. His prose abounds in loving descriptions of thighs and calves and thighs, but lacks a greater purpose. A novel needs something more than loving exudations of prozzies to be successful (a few classics notwithstanding). Your friend trundles off. He rents a box room and starts his masterpiece, A Novel With Substance, Truth & Power. You tell him to rethink the title, but he tells you to shut up, he knows what he’s doing. So: skip twelve years, past the four breakdowns, nine marriages, one suicide attempt, to the final draft of his masterpiece. You sit down to read this dense marsh of unreadable prose, despairing at each spontaneous MUMMY that looms from the text (often LOVE ME MUMMY), and watch a sitcom instead. The message? All artists are fucked up. Some are—as they say in the US army—fucked up beyond all recognition.

Uplifting passage, spoken by the character based on Zola:

“From the moment I start a new novel, life’s just one endless torture. The first few chapters may go fairly well and I may feel there’s still a chance to prove my worth, but that feeling soon disappears and every day I feel less and less satisfied. I begin to say the book’s no good, far inferior to my earlier ones, until I’ve wrung torture out of every page, every sentence, every word, and the very commas begin to look excruciatingly ugly. Then, when it’s finished, what a relief! Not the blissful delight of the gentleman who goes into ecstasies over his own production, but the resentful relief of a porter dropping a burden that’s nearly broken his back . . . Then it starts all over again, and it’ll go on starting all over again till it grinds the life out of me, and I shall end my days furious with myself for lacking talent, for not leaving behind a more finished work, a bigger pile of books, and lie on my death-bed filled with awful doubts about the task I’ve done, wondering whether it was as it ought to have been, whether I ought not to have done this or that, expressing my last dying breath the wish that I might do it all over again!” (p259-60)
Profile Image for Léonie.
89 reviews3,217 followers
September 11, 2020
4,75 je ne note pas mes livres de cours avant de les avoir étudiés, mais celui ci... wow
je ne pensais vraiment pas que je serais capable d’autant l’aimer, je pense que c’est maintenant mon classique préféré et je ne pensais vraiment pas possible pour moi d’être autant capturée dans un classique comme je l’ai été dans celui ci!
ça serait très sincèrement un 5 étoiles si ce n’était pas pour les problèmes de l’époque comme la misogynie qui malgré l’excuse de la période me font grincer des dents
quelle surprise
j’ai trop hâte de l’étudier 🤭
Profile Image for Luís.
1,947 reviews611 followers
January 17, 2023
This book is a classic of the universal literature of French expression. It always had its works translated into all the languages and still, in very little time, transformed into films and series that have been seen worldwide. This work is an excellent example of literature in the service of causes in the case of Édouard Manet's work of 1863. In defense of this reference to Impressionists and one of the initiators of the contemporary art world, he wrote this work, in 1886, in his later life years.
Profile Image for Alice Poon.
Author 5 books279 followers
September 3, 2023
Including L’Oeuvre (The Masterpiece), I’ve so far read five of the twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart series by Emile Zola (the other four being: La Curee (The Kill), L’Assommoir (The Dram Shop), Nana (Nana) and Le Ventre (The Belly of Paris)). All five are set in kaleidoscopic Paris. The period is some time during the semi-aristocratic and semi-bourgeois Second Empire epoch. I love that each of the five portrays a different and unique social and cultural aspect of the times.

In the Preface, Ernest Alfred Vizetelly tells us that Zola draws from the real life experiences of the famous French painters Paul Cezanne (Zola’s childhood friend) and Edouard Manet (whose art Zola tirelessly championed) to develop the characterization of the protagonist Claude Lantier. Sadly, this would subsequently cause Cezanne to break up his friendship with Zola.

Claude Lantier is a descendant by blood from the Macquart line and presumably suffers from hereditary mental illness.

The story follows Lantier through his initial ambitions as a young rebellious painter and his subsequent self-perceived failures, which lead to a gradual tragic descent into abject poverty and ultimate despair about life.

Cheered on by a circle of fellow artists, including his best friend and budding writer Pierre Sandoz (Zola himself), Lantier at first nurtures a megalomaniac dream of conquering the art scene of Paris one day with his new concept of “open air” painting. He even balks with audacity at the jeers of the public on his first creative piece “In the Open Air” which he submits to the newly opened and supposedly more liberal Salon of the Rejected.

He then falls in love with a modest young woman from Clermont who adores him. The couple lives happily in the countryside for a few years before returning to Paris. As time wears on, each of his once loyal supporters has found success in varying degrees, some by unscrupulous means, and he feels left behind in face of consecutive rejections of his works by the conservative but still authoritative Old Salon. In the end, neither his beloved wife nor his most loyal friend Sandoz is able to lift him from the psychological dumps.

Zola paints the Paris art scene with equal doses of realism and romanticism, of derision and compassion, of insight and scorn. But all in all, I can feel his consuming love of the city of Paris, which is also my favorite city. In this novel as well as in L’Assommoir (The Dram Shop), he takes us on a leisurely stroll through all the boulevards and avenues in the center of Paris. In this novel, he dwells amorously on the scenery surrounding L’Ile de la Cite and makes it the subject of the protagonist’s last masterpiece.

People see it every day, pass before it without stopping; but it takes hold of one all the same; one’s admiration accumulates, and one fine afternoon it bursts forth. Nothing in the world can be grander; it is Paris herself, glorious in the sunlight.
Profile Image for Rakhi Dalal.
212 reviews1,437 followers
August 12, 2016

'Ah! life! life! to feel it and portray it in its reality, to love it for itself, to behold in it the only real, lasting, and changing beauty, without any idiotic idea of ennobling it by mutilation. To understand that all so-called ugliness is nothing but the mark of individual character, to create real men and endow them with life, yes, that's the only way to become a god!'

Perfection is the sole intention of an artistic endeavor striving towards greatness. In this effort lies the innate desire of an artist to conquer the imaginative world of his creation. To conquer it in such a way that his creations are perfect portrayal of those ideas which his mind perceives and of those which he lives by too. Even when he realizes that perfection in reality is unattainable; it is still the only impetus that drives his passion. A passion fueled by the long coveted glory in the real world. If his passion is continuously thwarted when confronted with real world, the artist may fall into that ruinous abyss from which there is no escape - from which he doesn’t really wish to escape since for him it is only his art which matters, which is real, and everything else is inconsequential. He may rather die for his art than live for something else in the world.

'Yes, I belong to that god; he may do what he pleases with me. I should die if I no longer painted, and I prefer to paint and die of it. Besides, my will is nothing in the matter. Nothing exists beyond art; let the world burst!

L'Oeuvre or His Masterpiece from the series Rougon-Macquart by Emile Zola, set in second half of the nineteenth century Paris, is a striking rendition of the life of such an artist in the City of Light. Claude Lentier is a revolutionary painter who produces paintings after paintings only to be rejected by the Salon every year. He knows that it is because he doesn’t follow the traditional style, he would rather starve than compromise his art. Finally, the rejections take its toll on the painter who, after struggling too much, loses the very art which he wants to perfect. More he works on his paintings, more he spoils them in his zealousness. Till in the end, after losing everything, he dies for his art.

This work, which is the fourteenth book in a series of twenty volumes, is not only one part in the story of two families followed through generations by Zola but it is also a work which stands apart for its own literary merit. I haven’t read any other volume but have read somewhere that L'Assommoir and Germinal are the best in the series. Surely, L'Oeuvre has inspired me to read other volumes too.

It is well known that many of the characters of this work were drawn from real life artists. Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, in the preface to work, provides an account of various people and incidents which went into the creation of this novel; two major characters being the protagonist Claude Lantier (inspired by Cezanne and Manet) and his closest friend Sandoz (based upon Zola himself).

In the words of Alfred:

Claude Lantier, the chief character in the book, is, of course, neither Cezanne nor Manet, but from the careers of those two painters, M. Zola has borrowed many little touches and incidents. The poverty which falls to Claude's lot is taken from the life of Cezanne, for Manet was the only son of a judge and was almost wealthy….Whilst, however, Claude Lantier, the hero of L'Oeuvre, is unlike Manet in so many respects, there is a close analogy between the artistic theories and practices of the real painter and the imaginary one. Several of Claude's pictures are Manet's, slightly modified. For instance, the former's painting, 'In the Open Air,' is almost a replica of the latter's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe ('A Lunch on the Grass'), shown at the Salon of the Rejected in 1863. Again, many of the sayings put into Claude's mouth in the novel are really sayings of Manet's. And Claude's fate, at the end of the book, is virtually that of a moody young fellow who long assisted Manet in his studio.

A Lunch on the Grass by Manet.

Being a Parisian, Zola had acquired that artistic fervor which throbbed as life in the pulse of the artistic City. Owing to his friendship with painters of the time, the ideas which hence found an expression in the writing of this work by Zola are rendered akin to masterly strokes in a painting by a painter. Here the city is itself seen through the eyes of a painter as Claude walks in the streets of city looking out for an inspiration. Quoting Alfred again:

From a purely literary standpoint, the pictures of the quays and the Seine to be found in L'Oeuvre are perhaps the best bits of the book, though it is all of interest, because it is essentially a livre vecu, a work really 'lived' by its author.

The work ‘Lived’ in the sense that the thoughts and philosophical ideas occupying the minds of both Claude and Sandoz, are those of Zola himself. The exasperation felt by Claude, after being frustrated with his work, while roaming the streets of Paris, was that felt by an unemployed Zola too. His writing delves into Naturalism as well as impressionism as he illustrates the life of Claude and his paintings. His promotion of the school of “Open-Air” can be distinctly identified with the title of Claude’s first painting “In the Open Air” exhibited by the Salon of Rejected. He was an ardent admirer and supporter of Edouard Manet, the first real master of Open Air School, and had anticipated the significance of painter’s principles and methods. It is these methods and principles which he associates with Claude here.

In the voice of Sandoz, a novelist, Zola puts his own words when he expresses his views regarding the futility of extreme efforts taken by Claude at the expense of his family and his life.

'Look here, old man, I, whom you envy, perhaps, yes, I, who am beginning to get on in the world, as middle-class people say. I, who publish books and earn a little money as well, I am being killed by it all. I have often already told you this, but you don't believe me, because, as you only turn out work with a deal of trouble and cannot bring yourself to public notice, happiness in your eyes could naturally consist in producing a great deal, in being seen, and praised or slated. Well, get admitted to the next Salon, get into the thick of the battle, paint other pictures, and then tell me whether that suffices, and whether you are happy at last. Listen; work has taken up the whole of my existence. Little by little, it has robbed me of my mother, of my wife, of everything I love. It is like a germ thrown into the cranium, which feeds on the brain, finds its way into the trunk and limbs, and gnaws up the whole of the body.

As a protagonist, Claude is not a very likeable character. He fails as a painter, as a husband and even as a father. His extreme step of committing suicide doesn’t really surprise nor does it evoke anger or any pity. This according to me is the triumph of Zola as a writer. It is his straight forward style as a realist and naturalist writer which succeeds in the life like description of an artist struggling in a city where the custodians of art adhere to long accepted traditional styles and where the audience of such art follows the popular opinions tossed about by a handful of average artists.

Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,783 reviews1,458 followers
April 25, 2022
I am going to read immediately another book by Émile Zola.
What does that say?
I cannot get enough of this author!

I love that all of his books I have read so far have a different topic, this despite that all of Les Rougon-Macquart Books are set during the Second Empire (1852-1870), when France was under the rule of Napoleon III. Picking up Zola’s books, one after another, doesn’t get boring.

This, Zola’s 14th novel of Les Rougon-Macquart Books, is set in Paris over a period of about fifteen years, concluding in 1870. It is about the Bohemian art community in Paris when Impressionism was first taking hold; the characters are painters, sculptors and art dealers, authors, journalists, actresses, architects and their respective husbands, wives and children. One thing that is outstanding is Zola’s ability to make each and every one of a large cast of characters come alive. I can think of no other author that can pull this off as well as Zola does.

This is a book of in-depth character portrayal. It is about a group of friends. Two of the central characters are very close—Claude Lantier and Pierre Sandoz. The former, an artist, is based primarily on Paul Cézanne with bits of Édouard Manet and Claude Monet thrown in too. Pierre Sandoz is modeled on the author himself. Zola and Cézanne grew up together in Aix-en-Provence, which in Zola’s stories is referred to as the Provençal village of Plassans. This is Zola’s most autobiographical novel!

Zola puts you in a time and a place. You are there, I mean really, really there. His writing is descriptive, very descriptive. I do not recommend Zola’s books to those who dislike descriptive writing. He describes people, facial details such as eyebrows, texture of the skin, prominence of a jaw, the shape of a mouth, the stature, height, width and build of a body, the clothes on that body, their color, cut, flimsiness, need of repair, or maybe the number, size, shape and color of the buttons there. Do they shine or sparkle or are they dull? I sink into these details and I see that which is described before my eyes. More than just seeing, I feel the essence that a person exudes. Zola does this with people, places and situations. You are there beside a person, in a hall, on a street. You know that person, you know how that person will react, you have spent time with that person, you know their backstory. I have spent a whole paragraph in an attempt to describe Zola’s writing style. Why? Because you know better than I do what style of writing fits you. I love this writing. I am swallowed up by it. I become immersed in another time and place and the people there surrounding me.

I will give one concrete example. A struggling pointer has finally gotten one of his paintings chosen for the prestige filled exhibit at the Palais des Beaux-Arts. Getting through the selection process has been both excruciating and humiliating. He goes to the hall to see his picture. He cannot find it. Around and around he searches. The hall fills up, the crowd is dense, garments are wet and steaming, rain pounds the skylight above. When Claude Lantier, and it is him of course, finally finds his painting, it is up high on a wall, tilted, insignificant, squeezed in between other more prominent tableaux. Nobody stops and looks at his paining. It is this way for all struggling new artists. It is this way for those established artists no longer in mode. It is those paintings backed by influential friends with money and position that draw attention. Others are ignored, mocked or laughed at. And now listen, to top it all off, Claude’s painting was a painting of love, a painting of Claude’s son who has died. Readers have lived through the son’s birth and then death, the sorrow and the pain of it. Seeing that small, tilted painting thrown up high on a wall makes your heart break! Zola has given all the right details to make you care.

“Naturalism is a literary movement beginning in the late nineteenth century, similar to literary realism in its rejection of Romanticism, but distinct in its embrace of determinism, detachment, scientific objectivism, and social commentary. The movement largely traces to the theories of French author Émile Zola.” (Source: Wiki)
The above is reflected in all that one reads by Zola.

The narration by Leighton Pugh is very, very good. The narration I have given four stars. His pronunciation of French is relatively good. Speed and pacing are fine. This is a book where you want to hear the author’s words, undisturbed by the narrator.

The more I read of the Les Rougon-Macquart Books, the more characters I recognize. I found a family tree here:
I was happy to find it, so I thought you might want it too. It is in French but that doesn’t matter with names!

Zola is my new favorite author. I like the writing style. Characters, places and events come alive for me. You can read the books in whatever order you want. Pick one with a topic that appeals to you. Just don’t start with Nana, I didn’t like that at all!


*Thérèse Raquin 4 stars

Les Rougon-Macquart Books
*(#13)Germinal 4 stars
*(#14)The Masterpiece (L’Oeuvre) 4 stars
*(#9)Nana 1 star
*(#7) The Drinking Den (L'Assommoir) TBR
*(#12)The Bright Side of Life (La Joie de vivre) TBR
*(#17)The Beast in Man (La Bête Humaine)TBR
*(#11)The Ladies' Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames) TBR
*(#2)The Kill (La Curée) TBR
*(#18)Money (L’Argent) TBR
*(#3)The Belly of Paris (Le Ventre de Paris) TBR
*(#1)The Fortune of the Rougons (La Fortune des Rougon) TBR

Other books on Impressionism:
*The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman 5 stars
*Matisse the Master: The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954 by Hilary Spurling 4 stars
*The Unknown Matisse, 1869-1908 by Hilary Spurling 4 stars
*Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King 4 stars
*The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King 3 stars
Profile Image for Annetius.
321 reviews93 followers
November 22, 2020
Το μεγαλεπήβολο σχέδιο του Zola να φτιάξει μια σειρά μυθιστορημάτων, τους Ρουγκόν-Μακάρ, μοιάζει σαν μια κούρσα-ταξίδι στον χρόνο, σε μια συγκεκριμένη εποχή, με μηχανοδηγό έναν αληθινά προικισμένο λογοτέχνη που η γλώσσα του και ο νατουραλισμός του αγγίζουν τα ανώτερα επίπεδα της τέχνης στην οποία τάχθηκε. Εμπλέκοντας ένα κεντρικό αφήγημα, εκτινάσσει το συγγραφικό του ταλέντο τόσο μεστά μέσα από τους παραπόταμους των παράλληλων γεγονότων και μέσα από την ικανότητά του να χαλιναγωγεί την γραφή, να μην αφήνει τίποτα εγκαταλελειμμένο στην τυχαιότητα, τίποτα που να χάσκει στο κενό. Όλα εδώ είναι πλουσιοπάροχα, κάθε λέξη έχει ειδικό βάρος και στο σύνολο καρφώνεται στο μυαλό του αναγνώστη μια τόσο καθαρή εικόνα του έξω μα κυρίως του μέσα κόσμου των εμπλεκόμενων προσώπων που ένας σύγχρονος ψυχολόγος θα μπορούσε με δυσκολία να ανταγωνιστεί αυτή του τη δεξιότητα.

Το εν λόγω βιβλίο του Zola είναι αυτοαναφορικό με κύριο άξονα τους δεσμούς φιλίας του λογοτέχνη με τον παιδικό του φίλο Cézanne, οι δυο τους περιστοιχισμένοι από άλλους φίλους καλλιτέχνες σε ένα Παρίσι όπου τα μπιστρό είναι τόπος συνάντησης και μοιράσματος, το γκάζι και οι λάμπες πετρελαίου μετά βίας ζεσταίνουν τα νοικιασμένα ατελιέ των ζωγράφων και ο ιμπρεσιονισμός βγάζει δειλά το κεφάλι του ως καινοτόμα ματιά, ως επαναστατικό ρεύμα. Πρόκειται για την καλλιτεχνική τους πορεία, ιδίως αυτής του ζωγράφου που αγωνιά και ματώνει για να καταφέρει αυτό που φαντάζει ακατόρθωτο, τη δημιουργία του καλύτερου και πιο άξιου πίνακά του, χωρίς εκπτώσεις στο ταλέντο του και τις φρέσκιες ιδέες του, με μια επιμονή που γίνεται σταδιακά εμμονή που τον στοιχειώνει. Αυτή η εμμονή τον αποχαυνώνει λίγο-λίγο, γίνεται η βαριά, ασήκωτη σκιά που τον ακολουθεί σε κάθε του βήμα και όνειρο, μέχρι τον θάνατο.

Ο ελεύθερος βηματισμός ενός νέου ταλαντούχου καλλιτέχνη σκοντάφτει πάνω στην αυστηρή και στείρα γραμμή μιας πεπατημένης, της εγκάθετης, από καθέρδας, γραμμής που δίνεται έτοιμη προς μίμηση από τους δασκάλους. Και εκεί δημιουργείται μια ρωγμή στο χρόνο, το ταλέντο αναφλέγεται, αντιδρά, τινάζεται πίσω και στρίβει για να χαράξει τη δική του τροχιά. Ο δρόμος αυτός κάθε άλλο παρά με λουλούδια είναι σπαρμένος γιατί η ματαιοδοξία του καλλιτέχνη γίνεται το κεντρί που στρέφεται και τον δηλητηριάζει σε κάθε του βήμα. Η αγωνία του και το εσωτερικό του άγχος μας διαπερνά σαν ρεύμα, ο ερεθισμός του είναι σχεδόν μόνιμος, ο διακαής του πόθος να αγγίξει το ιδεώδες τον καταλαμβάνει σαν δαίμονας. Όπως οι ζητιάνοι που τείνουν παρακλητικά το χέρι στον περαστικό ικετεύοντας για ελεημοσύνη, ο καλλιτέχνης τείνει το δικό του χέρι προς το άπιαστο εκλιπαρώντας για τη θεία έμπνευση που θα του προσφέρει το τέλειο, το άριστο που αναζητά.

Οι καλλιτέχνες της αφήγησης, ο Κλωντ (Cezanne), ο Σαντόζ (Zola), ο Ντυμπύς, ο Μαουντώ, ο Σεν, ο Φαζρόλ, ξεκινούν μαζί την πορεία τους και μοιάζει να πίνουν νερό στο όνομα της φιλίας που τους συνδέει σαν ιερό και στέρεο συγκολλητικό υλικό. Μοιράζονται τα πάθη τους, ανταλλάσσουν μοντέλα που στήνονται γυμνά στα ατελιέ τους, τα βήματά τους οδηγούνται ενστικτωδώς στα στέκια όπου θα συναντήσουν τους συντρόφους τους, να μοιραστούν τις εσωτερικές τους αναζητήσεις. Ένα όργιο έμπνευσης και ορμής είναι το κάδρο μέσα από το οποίο εφορμά η ιστορία. Όμως ο καλλιτέχνης όσο κι αν ανήκει κοινωνικά σε ένα σύνολο άλλων ομότεχνών του ή και όχι, παραμένει μια μονήρης προσωπικότητα που ζει μοναχικά το δικό του προσωπικό δράμα, με τον δικό του προσωπικό δραματικό τρόπο. Κι έτσι αλίμονο, όλα αυτά περί συντροφικότητας δεν είναι παρά μια ψευδαίσθηση. Περνώντας από τον στενό διάδρομο της ματαιοδοξίας, χωράει μόνο ένας τη φορά, συνθλίβοντας τη χρυσή αλυσίδα της φιλίας που τους ενώνει. Οι δεσμοί αραιώνουν μέσα στο υγρό του άγριου ανταγωνισμού, σπάνε σαν εύθραυστα διάτρητα κόκαλα και μένει να κοιτάμε τη σκόνη τους που σκορπίζει.

«Προς τι αυτός ο μάταιος αναβρασμός, αν ο άνεμος πίσω από τον άνθρωπο που περπατάει, σαρώνει και παίρνει μαζί του τα ίχνη του; Το είχε νιώσει από πριν πως δεν έπρεπε να επιστρέψει εκεί, διότι το παρελθόν δεν είναι παρά το κοιμητήριο των ψευδαισθήσεών μας και σπάει κανείς τα πόδια του ανάμεσα στους τάφους.»

Οργασμός τέχνης αναβλύζει από την αφήγηση και ο αναγνώστης είναι σε περίοπτη θέση μπροστά στο πανόραμα του Παρισιού των τεχνών του 19ου αιώνα, αυτού των Σαλονιών Τέχνης όπου η δραστηριότητα είναι ασταμάτητη, οι φλέβες του Σηκουάνα πάλλονται μπροστά του και οι γέφυρες που χωρίζουν τη δυτική από την αριστερή όχθη δεσπόζουν μπροστά στο βλέμμα και το χορταίνουν εικόνες της εποχής.
Στο δημιούργημα ξεκινάμε με μια κάψα και μια πυρετώδη πορτοκαλιά θέρμη και μεταβαίνουμε, σιγά-σιγά, στο απόλυτο ψύχος και την παγερή λευκότητα του θανάτου, και το αντιλαμβανόμαστε όταν είναι πια αργά, όταν έχει πια επέλθει η απόλυτη καταστροφή να μας συντρίψει.

Όσο τελείται η μετάβαση από το θετικό στο αρνητικό φορτίο της ιστορίας, γινόμαστε οι αβοήθητοι μάρτυρες μιας αναμέτρησης. Η τομή είναι εγκάρσια, πιάνει τα ζωτικά μας όργανα, δε μας αφήνει αλώβητους. Μένουμε μετέωροι να κοιτάμε το δράμα και τα κομμάτια που αφήνει διάσπαρτα γύρω μας, αμήχανοι, απολύτως ανίκανοι να τα κολλήσουμε ξανά. Βλέπουμε, νιώθουμε, μα αδυνατούμε να βοηθήσουμε. Ωδίνες γέννας διακατέχουν τον ζωγράφο, μια γέννα που αδυνατεί να έρθει σε πέρας· αργός θάνατος για τη γυναίκα-μοντέλο που ο ρόλος της ως γυναίκας του ζωγράφου εξαϋλώνεται για να κερδίσει κατά κράτος ο ρόλος της ως η κεντρική μορφή του δημιουργήματός του. Η ολοζώντανη γυναίκα σβήνει σταδιακά από τον συναισθηματικό χάρτη του ζωγράφου ενώ η μορφή του πίνακα είναι εκείνη που υψώνεται σε αντικείμενο λατρείας. Η αντιζηλία της γυναίκας στρέφεται προς το άυλο πορτρέτο της μέσα σε μια παραφροσύνη, εχθρός της είναι ο ίδιος της ο εαυτός που στήθηκε κάποτε ως μοντέλο μπροστά στον καλλιτέχνη, δίνοντάς του ό,τι πιο ακριβό από την ίδια, προσφέροντας τον εαυτό της ολοκληρωτικά, πνιγμένη από έρωτα.

Ο έρωτας της Κριστίν, της λατρεμένης γυναίκας του Κλωντ, σπάει κόκαλα, είναι κραυγαλέος, ο αναγνώστης σχεδόν τον ζηλεύει, ακόμα και ο πιο αποστεγνωμένος συναισθηματικά θα σταθεί όρθιος με τα συναισθήματά του ξαναμπουμπουκιασμένα, αναστημένος από την απονέκρωσή του. Όμως αυτός γίνεται φωτιά και την πυρώνει, μέχρι να την κάψει ολοσχερώς. Ο έρωτας τής ξεφεύγει, γλιστράει πίσω με την ίδια ορμή που δόθηκε, όπως η άμπωτη, που ρουφάει πίσω όλο το νερό που γέμισε η πλημμυρίδα.

Η πορεία του βιβλίου είναι καθοδική, βουλιάζουμε στον ξεπεσμό όλων των αξιών, μέσα σε μια συντελεσμένη συναισθηματική χρεοκοπία -όπως αναφέρει ο ίδιος ο Zola- φτωχότεροι, ανήμποροι, παγωμένοι.
Κλείνοντας το βιβλίο αναφώνησα έκθαμβη, με μεθυστικό ενθουσιασμό, πως θα ήθελα κι άλλο, κι άλλη λογοτεχνία σαν του Ζολά, τόσο πλούσια σε λόγο και εικόνες, τόσο αριστουργηματικά εκτελεσμένη.

Ο Ζολά έφτιαξε το δικό του δημιούργημα, ένα έργο μέσα σε έργο, ένα έργο τέχνης που ξεχειλίζει από τέχνη, που εμπεριέχει την τέχνη και όπου ένα σπινθηροβόλο και οξυδερκές ψυχογράφημα ορισμένων ανθρώπων αλλά και μιας εποχής ξετυλίγεται δραματικά μπροστά στα μάτια μας. Στον Ζολά υπάρχει μια διαφάνεια στη γραφή, όλα πραγματεύονται μέσω ενός σι-θρου ακριβού, θαρρείς, πέπλου που δεν καλύπτει παρά αποκαλύπτει και μέσω αυτού διαφαίνονται ξάστερες και λαμπερές όλες οι αποχρώσεις των προσώπων και των καταστάσεων, ακόμα και οι πιο λεπτές, οι πιο αόρατες. Η ορμή και η ζωντάνια του λόγου συνδράμει αυτή των γεγονότων –και το αντίθετο– και το αποτέλεσμα είναι θαυμαστό.

Τι μένει στο τέλος του δημιουργήματος, μετά την καταστροφή τελικά; Μένει αιώνια η ζωγραφική του Cézanne, τα γραπτά του Zola και τα έργα όλων των υπολοίπων να ζεσταίνουν το κοινό, τη μια γενιά μετά την άλλη, αέναα, χωρίς σταματημό, μέσα στην κοινόχρηστη θάλασσα της τέχνης όπου κανείς μπορεί να κολυμπήσει ελεύθερα και να πιει όσο θέλει.

*Η μετάφραση των εκδόσεων Καστανιώτη ήταν αψεγάδιαστη, καθώς και το επίμετρο, ένα μικρό εύστοχο σχόλιο πάνω στο συγκεκριμένο έργο.
Profile Image for WhatIReallyRead.
725 reviews507 followers
August 26, 2019
This book has absolutely WRECKED me. This review is written by a pile of ashes.

The Masterpiece is populated by artists, passionate, ambitious and young, feverish with their ideas and ideals. They are immersed in the world of literature and art, contribute to it, fight against it and for it. They crave glory and kill themselves with work, striving to rise above mediocrity. And people who love them have to deal with all of that, and it's a lot. It was fascinating and heartbreaking, really.

The writing was amazing. I fell in love with the characters and empathized with a lot of what they felt and thought. Zola is now one of my favorite writers. "The Masterpiece" is a work of pure genius.

I picked this book up as a tie-in for my non-fiction read of Degas, because the main character, a fictional artist Claude Lantier, is also a XIX-century impressionist making a career in Paris. Though it is said Lantier was actually based partly on Cezanne, partly on Manet, who were friends with Zola.
Profile Image for Carlo Mascellani.
Author 18 books262 followers
March 14, 2020
L'arte è vita, è gioia, è miracolo. È un benefico confronto con se stessi e una straordinaria opportunità di crescita individuale e spirituale. Ma il continuo confronto con la tela bianca e la portata di un'ispirazione che sembra sempre porsi ben al di là delle nostre capacità artistiche, può anche condurre a rasentar la follia...
Profile Image for David Lentz.
Author 17 books313 followers
July 20, 2014
"The Masterpiece" is itself a masterpiece from Emile Zola about the utter anguish of an artist over the gap between life and art. Claude is a French artist living in Paris when naturalism was just beginning to give way to Impressionism. By a naturalist we mean "one who studies nature" itself in the same way in which Seamus Heaney wrote in "The Death of a Naturalist" and the depiction of nature in a strictly natural way: that is, the quest of the artist was to show life within nature through a photographic verisimilitude or realism. Imagine being Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edouard Manet at the outset of the Impressionist Movement, which at the time of this novel, was widely considered as laughable. In this novel the protagonist, Claude, has devoted his entire life to the creation of a masterpiece of art accepted by the Salon, patrons, art dealers, art critics and general public of Parisian society. Claude meets with artistic rejection at every turn as portrayed by his friend, Sandoz, an up and coming novelist, who is thinly veiled as Zola himself. Novels like the painting of the day were judged by standards of realism: the work was of the highest quality only if it captured life itself in a realistic and natural setting. For example, Henry James wrote his works at the same time as Zola and the literary styles seek to capture the nuances of setting and characters and action in realistic ways. Sentences flow in traditional style with subjects and predicates nicely arranged and without stylistic breakthroughs which would follow from James Joyce. Claude is obsessed with perfection in his art and is willing to go to any artistic length to seek to achieve it. He and his family endure the most dire poverty in pursuit of his aim and his wife suffers more than he does in support of his artistic ambitions. But poor Claude is rejected everywhere by most who fail to recognize the real artistic genius which his fellow artists and Sandoz clearly see as luminous within him. He wonders if it is better to live and die unknown than to suffer the sacrifices he has made for his art. "Immortality at present depends entirely on the average middle-class mind and is reserved only for the names that have been most forcefully impressed upon us while we were still unable to defend ourselves," Zola writes. A painting that he has produced for exhibition by Salon society in Paris causes howls of laughter by those observing it. He has little faith that posterity will judge his art more kindly: "Suppose the artist's paradise turned out to be non-existent and future generations proved just as misguided as the present one and persisted in liking pretty-pretty dabbling better than honest-to-goodness painting! What a cheat for us all, to have lived like slaves, noses to the grindstone all to no purpose." What about those whom the public deem to be great artists? Will their work survive them? "There is only one way of working and being happy at the same time, and that is never to rely on either good faith or justice. And if you want to prove you're right, you've got to die first." The critics are always throwing brickbats, not only at Claude, but also at Sandoz who after a terrible review by a close friend who is an editor responds by telling him: "Since my enemies are beginning to sing my praises, there are only my friends to run me down." At one point toward the end of his life Claude laments the pointlessness and futility of his artistic genius: "It's so pointless, isn't it? And that's what is so revolting about it. If you can't be a good painter, we still have life! Ah, life, life!" But there is little Claude can do except to continue to paint: "Art is the master, my master, to dispose of me as it pleases. If I stopped painting it would kill me all the same, so I prefer to die painting. My own will doesn't really enter into it." He has a vision of a style of art which is to come and dominate the art world but which no one else of his era can see and so he is compelled to suffer for it: "Will people understand that anyone who produces something new, and that's an honor that doesn't come to everybody, anyone who produces something new is bound to depart from received wisdom." Zola's dim and dire tale based upon his own suffering but ultimate success of his novels during his own lifetime seem to affirm: "Nothing is ever completely wasted, and there's simply got to be light!...We are not an end: we are a transition, the beginning only of something new." "The Masterpiece" is an imperfect work but so is all art, as Sandoz (Zola) writes as the narrator of the entire story: " You have to make do with half-measures in this life... My books, for example: I can polish and revise them as much as I like, but in the end I always despise myself for their being, in spite of my efforts, so incomplete, so untrue to life." This is the story of a painter whose paintings remain un-hung, whose life becomes unhinged and whose whole being ultimately is a crucifixion. In the natural world this is the way of life and a realistic portrait of the artist in Paris according to Zola who did not live long enough to see the glorious realm of French Impressionism come into full bloom.
Profile Image for P.E..
779 reviews558 followers
December 7, 2019
This is the story of a neurosis building up in a painter Zola has portrayed after Paul Cézanne, with fine impressionnistic descriptions to boot.

Recommendations :

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Oval Portrait
Les Nymphéas noirs


L'histoire de Claude Lantier, peintre impressionniste inspiré par Paul Cézanne, en proie à un détraquement croissant à mesure qu'avance l'histoire. Les descriptions sont très travaillées et fournies et, comme l'annonce la quatrième de couverture, Zola a mis beaucoup de lui-même dans le personnage de Pierre Sandoz en particulier, et dans ce roman, plus largement.

Suggestions personnelles :

Le Portrait: édition bilingue russe/français
Le Portrait de Dorian Gray
Le portrait ovale
Les Nymphéas noirs
Profile Image for qwerty.
52 reviews28 followers
September 16, 2016
Το έχω πει ξανά και θα το λέω συνέχεια: ο Emile Zola είναι ένας ΠΟΛΥ μεγάλος συγγραφέας. Με τη σειρά των 20 μυθιστορημάτων του με τίτλο "Les rougon Macquart" έχει καταφέρει να απεικονίσει ολόκληρη τη γαλλική κοινωνία (παρισινή και επαρχιώτικη) της εποχής του. Καθένα από αυτά τα μυθιστορήματα καταπιάνεται και με ένα διαφορετικό ζήτημα, όπως π.χ. ο αλκοολισμός(Ταβέρνα), η Τέχνη (Το δημιούργημα), η ματαιότητα(Η χαρά της ζωής), η εκμετάλλευση της εργατιάς (Ζερμινάλ), το χρήμα, η γη, η φτώχεια, η πολιτική, η θρησκεία, η μόδα, η φύση, η υγεία, η αγορά, ο πόλεμος, η επανάσταση, η πορνεία (Νανά). Κατά τη γνώμη μου θα έπρεπε όλα τα έργα του να υπάρχουν μεταφρασμένα στα ελληνικά κι όχι να τα βρίσκεις με το σταγονόμετρο σε παλαιοβιβλιοπωλεία κι ύστερα από αρκετό ψάξιμο.

Το "Δημιούργημα" αποτυπώνει την ψυχολογία του καλλιτέχνη που αγωνίζεται και παλεύει με τον ίδιο του τον εαυτό προκειμένου να δημιουργήσει αυτό το πολυπόθητο αριστούργημα κι αυτό δεν είναι απλά μια δίψα για δόξα και χρήμα, αλλά μια επιτακτική ανάγκη. Παρουσιάζει τη ζωγραφική όχι σαν ένα χόμπυ, ούτε σαν ένα επάγγελμα, αλλά σαν μια απαραίτητη ασχολία, ζωτικής σημασίας, όπως είναι η αναπνοή. Παρακολοθούμε την πορεία αυτού του γνήσιου καλλιτέχνη, σε αντίθεση με τις επαγγελματικές πορείες άλλων καλλιτεχνών που βλέπουν την Τέχνη τους σαν ένα μέσο πλουτισμού και κοινωνικής ανόδου. Επίσης, παρακολουθούμε την Τέχνη ως εμπόρευμα. Όλη η πορεία αυτή του ήρωα καταγράφεται συγκλονιστικά και με τους μελετητές του συγγραφέα να βλέπουν σε αυτήν ομοιότητες είτε με την πορεία του Paul Cezanne (ο οποίος υπήρξε παιδικός φίλος του Zola), είτε με του Edward Manet.

Η έκδοση του Καστανιώτη είναι πολύ προσεγμένη, με ένα πολύ όμορφο χοντρό εξώφυλλο και μια αξιόλογη μετάφραση. Ένα βίβλιο-δημιούργημα-πραγματικό στολίδι.

Profile Image for Hamidreza_tr.
71 reviews9 followers
November 14, 2020
از نظر من زولا در امر فضا سازی و توصیفات بهترین نویسنده جهان است حتی از تولستوی هم بهتره.
به دلیل کسالت پیش آمده( احتمالا کرونا !) حس و حالی برای طویل نوشتن نیست !
Profile Image for Dagio_maya .
933 reviews280 followers
March 30, 2022
”... lui che dipingeva a denti stretti,
con una fredda rabbia, non appena sentiva che la natura gli sfuggiva.”

Un temporale tanto improvviso quanto violento.
Claude Lantier, giovane pittore, dopo aver girovagato per le strade di Parigi, sta rientrando nella sua mansarda, quando davanti al portone di casa appare una misteriosa ragazza.
La pioggia inizia a battere sempre più forte i lampi illuminano il suo viso disperato:
è così che Claude e Christine si vedono per la prima volta.

Lei, orfana cresciuta in un convento.
Lui (già presente ne Il ventre di Parigi) che dall’età di sette anni è stato separato dalla madre (la Gervaise Maquart protagonista de L'Assomoir) e messo sotto l’ala protettrice di un mecenate che finanzia i suoi studi artistici.

Christine sale da Claude.
La descrizione del percorso per salire nella sua stanza che apre questo romanzo, mi è sembrata una metafora di tutta questa storia:
gli alti e scricchiolanti gradini, il buio, la mancanza di una ringhiera.
Tutto così precario, tutto così difficile.

Un romanzo che si muove sui binari della passione:
da un lato il viaggio dell'Amore carnale tra i due protagonisti,
dall’altro un rapporto tormentato con l’Arte.

Una scrittura emozionata dai ricordi di cui è impregnata a partire dalla cerchia di giovani artisti così ammirati e temuti, allo stesso tempo, con quel loro bisogno di incrinare le regole e di dettare le nuove forme dell’Arte.
Questo movimento rivoltoso ha come bersaglio principale L'Académie e il Salon, insomma i luoghi che sono l’istituzionalizzazione di un arte romantica che vogliono abbattere.
Il movimento che propone l’en plain air vuole liberare ogni forma artistica. Il naturalismo che rivendica il ruolo della Verità.


Zola è riconoscibile nell’amico più caro di Claude:
Pierre Sandoz, scrittore che conoscerà il successo grazie ad un suo progetto:

"Prenderò una famiglia e ne studierò i membri, uno per uno da dove vengono, dove vanno, come reagiscono, gli uni rispetto agli altri; infine, una umanità in piccolo, la maniera in cui l’umanità preme e si comporta.
D’altra parte, metterò i miei pupazzi in un periodo storico determinato, per disporre dell’ambiente e delle circostanze, un brano di storia... Eh? Capisci, una serie di libretti, quindici, venti, episodi che saranno connessi pur avendo ciascuno una propria autonomia, una serie di romanzi che mi procureranno una casa per la vecchiaia, sempre che non mi distruggano"

Il progetto zoliano e il naturalismo stesso possono essere non condivisibili (” Car la vérité absolue, la vérité sèche, n’existe pas, personne ne pouvant avoir la prétention d’être un miroir parfait. “ scriveva Maupassant) ma è proprio qui tra queste pagine che l’autore ci rende partecipi della passione e della fede nella sua idea letteraria.

Grande amore per la Letteratura.
Grande Romanzo.
Profile Image for Nataša Bjelogrlić .
84 reviews24 followers
March 10, 2022
- "Sutrašnja umjetnost bit će tvoja , ti si sve njih izgradio. Claude onda otvori usta i posve tiho, s mračnom neumoljivošću reče: - Što mi vrijedi, što sam ih izgradio, ako nisam izgradio samoga sebe?... Znaj, to je bilo preveliko za mene, i to me ubija." -" Čemu to uzaludno uzbuđivanje, ako vjetar iza čovjeka, koji hoda, mete i odnosi trag njegovih koraka?" -" Istinski je osjetio da se nije trebalo vraćati, jer je prošlost samo groblje naših ispraznih nada, te u njoj čovjek samo udara nogama o grobove." Ovo je vjerovatno jedan od Zolinih najboljih romana. Četvorka jer je sa "Žerminalom" i "Trovačnicom" teško poređenje svih ostalih.
Profile Image for Robert.
817 reviews44 followers
January 28, 2013
There's a character in this novel who decides to embark on an ambitious project to write a series of novels that "scientifically" demonstrate the effects of heredity and environment on a large family living during the regime of Napoleon III. (Whatever happened to Napoleon II?) The idea is that each book will examine some specific aspect of society and feature one member of the extended family as main protagonist. Which is odd, because Zola wrote a series of 20 books that examine the effects of environment and heredity on the fictional Rougon-Macquart family who live during Napoleon III's time in power...Yes, having abandoned (in practice if not by admission) his "scientific" plan fairly early in the 20 volume project, by the time Zola gets round to examining the world of artistic endeavor in Paris, he is entirely willing to model aspects of his characters on himself - and on his friends amongst the Impressionists, who, upon reading the book, variously, never spoke to him again, got really angry or found it flattering or funny.

Zola in this series is talking about a world only slightly in his past, that he lived through, and all of its members that I've read feel very believable in terms of the society and atmosphere portrayed, if possibly somewhat exaggerated, but in this one he is talking directly about his own experiences which differentiates this from the others in the series in a way beyond just that of being a separate plot about a seperate character in a different stratum of French society from the others - which is, of course, what they have in common. If you are interested in that kind of game you could spend hours pondering exactly which aspects of which characters are taken from which real-life world-famous Impressionist painters.

Strangely, the world of art portrayed seems entirely familiar; paintings used as investments, people trying to manipulate the market for profit, resultant hyper-inflation of prices. The public ridiculing works that later generations see as genius. Young artists spouting revolutionary theories about art and society, an old-guard establishment who try to keep the new-comers and their radical ideas down.

The main protagonist, Claude (yes, after that Claude) is the leader of just such a group of young, ambitious, would-be (art) world-changers. His battles with the establishment and his own flaws and genius are affectingly set out over the course of the book and leads to an end that many readers of other Rougon-Macquart novels can probably guess early. Other recognisable Zola themes are to be found; for instance promiscuity amongst the poor and attempts to describe the passionate aspects of romance explicitly that outraged many contemporary readers. A challenge as to what was permisable still being fought by D.H. Lawrence many decades later.

The style is also instantly recognisable, even across at least three different translators of his novels in the 6-10 Zola books I've read. The narrative voice, dramatic mood-swings and slow build-up (that can leave one bogged-down in the middle third) to a moving climax are all typically Zola. Despite the description of a man tortured by his obsessions and self-doubt, this member of the series was not for me as powerful as some of its more famous brethren, such as Germinal, The Earth or La Débâcle. Worth reading, then, but not the one to pick as one's first or even perhaps fifth work by Zola.
Profile Image for Sonya.
458 reviews295 followers
December 30, 2019

شاهكاري رماني بر اساس زندگي يك هنرمند با استعداد است كه دغدغه سراسر زندگي اش خلق اثري بي همتا است.
او با معيار هاي عامه پسند جامعه سازگاري ندارد و در تكاپو براي خلق شاهكاري است كه ديگران از درك آن عاجزند.
اين رمان تا حدي رنگ و بوي سرگذشت نامه ي شخصي دارد و خود او و بسياري از دوستانش را در قالب شخصيت ها ميتوان باز شناخت.
قسمتي از كتاب:
"پس فقط چند سالي بس بود تا نقطه اي كه آدم در آن كار كرده، عشق ورزيده و رنج كشيده است يكسره از پهنه ي زمين پاك شود.
پس چه سود از جوش و خروش بيهوده ي آدمي هنگامي كه باد پشت سر همه ي آثار و رد پاهاي انسان را مي روفت و با خود مي برد."
Profile Image for AiK.
548 reviews133 followers
March 24, 2022
Роман «Творчество» велик прежде всего правдой мироощущения импрессионистов, которых не понимал никто в годы их творчества. Им была уготована нищета, неприятие Салона при жизни, и восторг и поклонение миллионов после их смерти. Люди инертны, стадны, жестоки и в этом их карающая сила, которую они даже не осознают.
Profile Image for Janelle.
1,219 reviews168 followers
October 26, 2022
The story of the troubled artist, Claude and his downward spiral after struggling to cope with the lack of success for his new style of painting. He’s uncompromising and hard on himself but it was hard to read how he and his wife, Christine, neglect their poor son. And then the ending is quite devastating although signposted, I was still shocked.
It’s a fascinating insight into the art world of Paris when Impressionism was new and the establishment ridiculed it.

Profile Image for Scarlett.
150 reviews56 followers
November 28, 2017
Zola za mene postaje kralj tragedije. Ovo mi je njegov 10. roman koji čitam, svaki mi je draži od prethodnog, ali ovaj me je duboko potresao.

Junak romana je Klod Lantije, slikar koji je toliko posvećen umetnosti da sve aspekte života podređuje toj nekoj budućoj, savršenoj slici, remek-delu koje nikako da stvori. On radi bez sna, često ne jede, zaljubi se i oženi, ali ta prava žena je samo zamena za Ženu koju slika i koja je savršenija od njegove žive supruge, dobije dete koje vidi samo kao prepreku. Njegovo stremljenje ka savršenoj tehnici slikanja, pravoj liniji ženskog tela, novoj plein-air tehnici jače je od svih spoljnih uticaja. Polako ostaje bez prijatelja, gubi perspektivu i slike postaju sve nekvalitetnije, a on tone u ludilo.

Kristina od početka njihovog poznanstva sluti da nikad neće biti na prvom mestu, ali je uz njega do kraja. Njen monolog na kraju romana je jedan od najboljih koje sam ikada pročitala, bukvalno sam bila na ivici stolice i podržavala je do poslednjeg uzvičnika. Tu ga konačno suočava sa svim onim što je do tada prećutala, sa posledicama slikarstva na njihov brak, pokušava da mu skrene pažnju na sebe i na život van ateljea jer sluti da je on već duboko zaglibio i živi samo za fiks ideju. Konačno gubi borbu protiv Žene na slici, za koju je, ironično, ona pozirala.

Njihov sin je možda i najtragičnija epizoda u knjizi, majci uvek simbol da je nakon njegovog rođenja počela da gubi Kloda, a ocu samo smetnja i pokazatelj da mora da zarađuje za njega dok bi sam radije gladovao i slikao ogromna, neprofitabilna platna. Mali Žak umire, zapostavljen, a otac ga par trenutaka kasnije koristi kao model za sliku Mrtvo dete, delo koje će mu konačno doneti neko priznanje, ali osrednje. Klod kasnije posmatra svog sina na slici u galeriji, smeštenu u mračnom ćošku i sluša zgrožene komentare posetilaca, opet samo razmišljajući o tehnici koju je pogrešno koristio.

Prelepa priča koja izaziva svako saosećanje sa umetnicima.
Profile Image for Gill.
330 reviews109 followers
July 11, 2015
This is the 14th novel that I've read in the Rougon-Maquart series, and the first that I have given five stars to. It hasn't moved me as much as some of the other books that I've given five stars to in the past, but I still think it deserves that rating. Here's why:

The descriptions of Paris are excellent. I enjoyed them so much.

I felt that the characters in this novel are more rounded and multi dimensional than in some of the other novels I've read in the series.

I felt that Zola had more sympathy for the characters in this novel than in some of his others.

I enjoyed that there is a character based on Zola himself. This gave a bit of an insight into how he thought and worked.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of art and artists at the time the impressionists were starting their paintings. It was also nice to recognise some of the paintings and people who were being spoken about.

The sections that showed how friendships change over time were very evocative.

I thought that the two main characters in the book were Paris, and art and the meaning/purpose of art.

All in all I'm very glad I read this one. Onward and upward to the following six, and the end of the series!
Profile Image for Gary Inbinder.
Author 8 books176 followers
July 4, 2014
This is a story about how a creation destroys its creator, and the fine line between genius and madness. In that regard, it reminded me of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein."

Zola's descriptions of late 19th century Paris are astounding; you see, breathe, taste, and feel it. His characters are flesh and blood men and women. They leap off the page and bore into your consciousness. His observations of the human condition are compelling, his philosophical musings on the creative life profound. But it's all hard, bleak, and raw, a portrait of misery and depression with only the tiniest glimmer of hope in its final line, spoken in a cemetery: "Let's go to work."
Profile Image for Nahed.E.
601 reviews1,541 followers
August 27, 2021
اللقاء الاول مع إميل زولا ... لقاء قد تأخر كثيرا، ولكنه للأسف لم يكن كما يجب !!!

الفكرة الفلسفية للرواية جميلة ... وعميقة .. ولكن الثوب الأدبي لها ممل بعض الشئ، يصلح كفيلم سنيمائي فرنسي في ليلة صيفية مملة، فتشاهده في التلفاز لأنك ببساطة لا تجد شيئا غيره امامك ...
يمكنك أن تشاهد الرواية كفيلم ...
ولكن كقراءة .. لا أعلم لم اسعد بالرواية، بل تمنيت أن تنتهي 🥺
Profile Image for Andrei Bădică.
382 reviews155 followers
January 11, 2022
Am aflat din prefața cărții că romanul „Munca” face parte dintr-un ciclu, alături de Fécondité, Vérité și Justice (acesta ultimul, din păcate, nu a mai fost scris din cauza decesului autorului. În această carte, eroul principal se gândește la o societate în care capitalul, munca și talentul se îmbină. Locul se va numi Crècherie care, în traducere, înseamnă „creșă” unde cresc cei mai mici reprezentanți ai speciei umane și de unde își iau zborul.

„- Lasă, lasă, cînd ești tînăr mai crezi în cai verzi pe pereți. Ai gărgăuni și-ți închipui că poți în viitor să schimbi lumea.”
Profile Image for Marjolaine.
49 reviews9 followers
June 30, 2023
Lu il y a quelques années dans le cadre universitaire, quel plaisir de relire ce tome. Zola s'éloigne un peu de la lourdeur des derniers tomes pour traiter d'un drame plus personnel et dans un univers alors pas encore explorer dans les Rougon-Macquart. Ainsi Zola a toute une réflexion sur l'art de son époque, les évolutions qui ont lieu et surtout a une propre réflexion sur son art. Lui-même inséré dans les milieux artistiques de son époque et proche de Manet, c'est très intéressant de voir comme la vraie vie a pu influencer ce livre. Par ailleurs c'est un des plus beaux tomes dans les descriptions, le verbe utilisés paris st magnifiquement décrit, les rues et immeubles sont sensiblement pleins de vie, un vrai délice à lire.
Profile Image for Marija.
332 reviews37 followers
March 4, 2012
I think this is one of the most depressing stories I have ever read. Like Jude the Obscure, this is the kind of story that leaves you feeling cold...almost like you’ve been punched in the gut...an experience akin to a kind of betrayal. The Masterpiece is truly an awful story, yet Zola somehow manages to infuse a kind of beauty into his prose that counteracts the harsh naturalistic point of view that typically dominates Zola’s work. To reflect the artist Claude’s internal conflicts between romanticism and realism, and realism versus naturalism, the format and progression of Zola’s novel likewise illustrates that same struggle. As you are reading you do get that sense of battle of the old vs. the new in terms of style and description. Even at the end, there is no real sense of a true victor...a kind of defeat that almost mirrors the artist’s. Whether this was intentional or not, I loved how Zola achieved this.

I loved the artist’s point of view...how art colors the prose in regards to how Paris and the country are viewed. It forces the reader to focus on little details that would typically be overlooked. It beautifully reflects Claude’s own art...those flecks of paint and color that might initially seem jarring, yet when taken together and reflected upon, it all makes sense. Initially, when I read those descriptions of Claude’s blue trees, I felt exactly like Christine...blue trees? I couldn’t picture it. Yet when I went to the new Van Gogh exhibit at the PMA this week, on top of all of those layers of paint, I couldn’t help but notice those same blue trees in many of Van Gogh’s landscapes. ;) Claude’s visions finally made sense in my mind. They were beautiful.

Zola was relentless in punishing Claude and Christine. It was savage...so horrible. And yet it is described in such a way that the reader shares and experiences everything they feel. While some of the comments Claude makes are truly evil—he is certainly not portrayed as a saintly martyr—I don’t believe he deserved all of the misery that befalls him. Since Claude was partially modeled off of Zola’s childhood friend Cezanne, I can understand why Cezanne would have wanted to part ways with his friend after The Masterpiece was published.

Out of the other Zola novels that I have so far read, this one is markedly different. It doesn’t have that social satire present in his Octave Moret novels or the harsh addiction and vice prevalent in Nana. There is more of a sense of tragedy here, somewhat reminiscent of the Thomas Hardy novels I love—though Zola adds his own characteristically dark naturalistic flare to the drama.
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