Sunday, April 15, 2012

Historical Fiction: The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland

Publisher: Penguin
Date: 2004
Format: paperback
Acquired: mooched
Read: as an AP Art History supplement (okay, and also because I was intrigued by the Native American aspects)
Pages: 420
Reading time: six days

From GoodReads: In her acclaimed novels, Susan Vreeland has given us portraits of painting and life that are as dazzling as their artistic subjects. Now, in The Forest Lover, she traces the courageous life and career of Emily Carr, who, more than Georgia O'Keeffe or Frida Kahlo, blazed a path for modern women artists. Overcoming the confines of Victorian culture, Carr became a major force in modern art by capturing an untamed British Columbia and its indigenous peoples just before industrialization changed them forever. From illegal potlatches in tribal communities to artists' studios in pre-World War I Paris, Vreeland tells her story with gusto and suspense, giving us a glorious novel that will appeal to lovers of art, native cultures, and lush historical fiction.

My review: The Forest Lover proved to be a great supplement to my art history class because it really connected me to the expression and emotions in artwork. I thought Vreeland did a very good job of delving into the mind of an artist, demonstrating her passion and motivation for her art rather than just her superficial actions. I hadn't really grasped the personal "meanings" of modern art from class, but I began to through reading this book.

I'm not sure why I put off reading The Forest Lover for most of this school year. I expected it to be another slow-but-steady historical novel, but I was quickly totally absorbed into Emily Carr's story. It went passed the promised scenes of British Columbia to cover a modest selection of Fauves and other modern artists in France, showing the trials of being a professional female artist in the male-dominated early 20th century art world and exploring various styles. The only thing I could have wished for were more details of indigenous cultures as well as more of Carr's works. Reading the novel as much for knowledge of the First Nations as for art history, I wanted Vreeland to delve into the other cultures more than the amount she did, though it was adequate for the plot. I also wanted to see more of Carr's works in context with the storyline; there were only about four or five scattered throughout the book. Overall, however, The Forest Lover proved to be a fascinating historical read focusing on a figure about whom I now wish to learn even more.

Kitwancool, 1928
Blunden Harbour, 1930
Big Raven, 1931

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