Novels About Art, WWII, and the Monuments Men

Sometimes I find myself reading books on the same subject without really meaning to do so. This happened recently with several books that involves—in one way or another— great art, World War II and the Monuments Men.

Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore

Sacre Bleu, Christopher Moore, art, novel, Impressionists, Montmartre, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, ParisMy husband bought this one and insisted that I read it because it concerned Impressionist painters in 19th-century Paris. When he was done, he handed it to me and I did enjoy it.

“Now, in his latest masterpiece, Sacré Bleu, the immortal Moore takes on the Great French Masters. A magnificent ‘Comedy d’Art’ from the author of ‘Lamb, Fool,’ and ‘Bite Me,’ Moore’s ‘Sacré Bleu’ is part mystery, part history (sort of), part love story, and wholly hilarious as it follows a young baker-painter as he joins the dapper Henri Toulouse-Lautrec on a quest to unravel the mystery behind the supposed ‘suicide’ of Vincent van Gogh.”

Don’t take the history in this book too seriously; it starts with the murder of Vincent van Gogh, after all. Meeting these painters up close and personal, like old friends, provides an interesting experience, though. As with most books by Mr. Moore, you do need an ability to suspend disbelief as not everything in this novel is firmly grounded in reality, much less history.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

The Rose Code, Kate Quinn, Bletchley Park, WWII, code breaking, spiesI picked this up in audio book form at the library and listened while I was driving.

“A beautiful blue-blooded debutante, a tart-tongued London shop-girl, and a shy crossword-solving spinster join the war against Nazi Germany as codebreakers of Bletchley Park, only to find that the real puzzle lies inside the Park itself as a traitor sets them against each other in a betrayal reaching past the end of the war.”

I really got into :”The Rose Code” as I listened but it was due back at the library before I could finish. When I tried to renew it, I found there were gazillion holds on every version of “The Rose Code” in every library in our inter-library system. I still haven’t finished it and will probably have to buy a copy to do so.

The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli

The Night Portrait, Laura Morelli, Lady with an Ermine, Leonardo da Vinci, Cecilia Gallerani, Italian Renaissance, artI bought this novel at an estate sale and took it with me on a visit to our daughter and her family. Unfortunately, I left it there when I was only about 20 pages from the end. I’ll have to wait until Thanksgiving to find out how the German conservator saves Leonardo’s painting from the Nazi theft of fine arts all over Europe.

“An exciting, dual-timeline historical novel about the creation of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine, and the woman who fought to save it from Nazi destruction during World War II. Two women, separated by 500 years, are swept up in the tide of history as one painting stands at the center of their quests for their own destinies.”

Ms. Morelli has turned her background as an art historian into a series of novels that make art history come alive. We usually see the names of painters in two dimensions on their canvasses but she recreates them as real living people with all the attendant emotions and life experiences. In this book we meet Cecilia Gallerini (the woman in the portrait), Leonardo da Vinci (the man who painted her) and the Duke of Mila, (the man who commissioned the painting.)

Although “The Night Portrait” is a bit episodic and rushes along at the end, I enjoyed it. I recommend it to readers who like art, the Italian Renaissance, and the efforts by the Allies’ Monuments Men to find and recover the art Nazis stole from museums, private collections, and galleries.

The Paris Apartment by Kelly Bowen

The Paris Apartment, Kelly Bowen, WWII, art, spies, This one I took out from the library in large paperback form and dove right in.

“2017, London: When Aurelia Leclaire inherits an opulent Paris apartment, she is shocked to discover her grandmother’s hidden secrets—including a treasure trove of famous art and couture gowns. One obscure painting leads her to Gabriel Seymour, a highly respected art restorer with his own mysterious past. Together they attempt to uncover the truths concealed within the apartment’s walls.

Paris, 1942: The Germans may occupy the City of Lights, but glamorous Estelle Allard flourishes in a world separate from the hardships of war. Yet when the Nazis come for her friends, Estelle doesn’t hesitate to help those she holds dear, no matter the cost. As she works against the forces intent on destroying her loved ones, she can’t know that her actions will have ramifications for generations to come.

Set seventy-five years apart, against a perilous and a prosperous Paris, both Estelle and Lia must summon hidden courage as they navigate the dangers of a changing world, altering history—and their family’s futures—forever.”

Aside from the interruption of our trip, I have been able to keep my hands on this book and I’m almost finished.

Ranking the Art Novels

I detailed the novels above in chronological order of when I read (or began reading) them. Ranking them by how much I enjoyed them gives me this list:

  1. “The Rose Code”
  2. “The Paris Apartment”
  3. “The Night Portrait”
  4. “Sacré Bleu”

Really, I can recommend them all. Do keep in mind, though, that I love art and have visited over 50 art museums around the world. It would have been more except for that pesky pandemic that kept us from traveling for so long. Even if you are not an art lover, though, the novels hold their own in terms of character, plot and dramatic tension.

Why did these books all come into my life in such a short period of time? I have no idea. I don’t believe in coincidence, so I have to think there’s more to it than that. The purpose may not reveal itself for a while, though.

I the meantime, I have just enjoyed reading good books well done.

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