Grove, 2003 (2002)
Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth
he cover alone would have made me buy
, if not the title - the subject of the book posed for the artist for his lovely painting of a woman about to bathe. I knew very little about Rembrandt but should not have been shocked by the hard life he and his family had. Many artists have lived with poverty and rejection - even madness.
endrickje Stoffels enters Rembrandt's life after the death of his beloved wife Saskia. In 1649, Hendrickje travels to Amsterdam to be the household help, but becomes more than that to the artist. She runs his household, cares for his small son, and eventually ends up in his bed. Hendrickje does not question Rembrandt's love for her, and she in turn loves him. But society and the church frown upon their liaison and Rembrandt's favor fades.
, the author transports us to 1649 Amsterdam, bringing the times and the people to life. This was a period when the Plague raged and Matton's descriptions of that death sentence make the reader want to check their own armpits for the buboes that were a symptom. '
The plague makes the sick mad, it makes the mad dangerous. I don't trust the person coming towards me in the distance, beside the same canal. People with buboes but no fever yet go about the city and hate God and the living.
hough forbidden the church, Hendrickje lives by its tenets. Her story, that of a country girl who finds it hard to fit into city life, is told in her own words, spoken as to Rembrandt himself. Her thoughts, hopes, dreams and nightmares are laid out for us to view. The reader is taken into the artist's world - the smell from boiling rabbits' skins for glue for canvases; the copper used for etching; the constant search for the correct piece of fabric to use as a drape; the silence as the artist casts his imagination into the ether to envision his next painting. And above all, the constant worry about money.
his novel takes a slice of history and makes it human. Hendrickje's devotion - to a man who loves her but is obsessed with one thing, his art - is beautiful but sad to read.
is a thought provoking book about a selfless woman who gives up much for love and art.
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