The Masterpiece, Emile Zola, artists, Claude Lantier, Christine Hallegrain, review
Each artist's life is surrounded by passion. It can be a pleasant association, one filled with success and inspiration, or it can be deadly and obsessive. In the case of Emile Zola's "The Masterpiece", Claude Lantier, a young painter, is consumed with creating his vision, his life's work. However, his inspiration drives him to madness, and he sinks into a depression that takes over his life. In the end, his passion for his art causes Lantier to lose all that is important to him, and to give up his life in the process.
[...] This time there was nobody even to spit and pass on. It was death (291). Although each individual is indeed fueled by a drive to excel, Zola makes the reader understand the exorbitant amount of grief that Lantier experiences at the passing over of his painting is more hurtful than the actual passing of his child, Jacques. Whereas unbridled passion is an admirable trait in a human being, it is vital to the happiness and success of human nature to understand the importance of what is around you, and to treasure each gift that you, as an individual have been given. [...]
[...] His foundation for living is based on his career, on his creations. This is evident when Zola writes, Claude suffered even more deeply to see his work ignored. Surprised and disappointed, he looked about him for the crowd, the throng he had expected and why there was no one there to scoff. The jeers, the insults, the indignation he had had to hear in the past, though painful at the time, had given him a zest for life. Where were they now? [...]
[...] The novel opens with the introduction of three friends, Claude Lantier, the main character, Pierre Sandoz, a novelist, and Louis Dubuche, an architect. Lantier is very talented, and he has skills that are unorthodox and revolutionary. He believes in painting real subjects, in real places, instead of painting in the studio, as was common at the time. Furthermore, he preferred to do his work outdoors, and instead of focusing on religious pieces as was the norm, Lantier achieved great success at the opening of the Salon des Refuses, which is where rejected artists display their work. [...]
[...] It is because he is unable to create, to paint, that Claude sinks deeper into his depressive state. The breakup of his circle of friends does not help him to handle his lot in life, and jealousy plays a major factor in Claude's reaction to the success of one of his confreres, a man of lower skill, but who takes Claude's Plein Air, and recreates it into a true triumph. Since Claude's art has filled him with such despair and frustration, and his “masterpiece,” or vision was such an illusion, and he was never happy with his lot in life, the novel concludes with Claude committing suicide after an episode he experiences after painting the torso like “some infatuated visionary driven by the torments of the real to the exaltation of the unreal” (347). [...]
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