Two women tell their side of the story as the models of post-impressionist painter, Pierre Bonnard, in this fictional take on the artist’s life. One is the long-time companion and muse, Marthe de Meligny, one is a model discovered selling perfume during the First World War but who will Bonnard choose in the end?
Written in dual narrative both characters draw the reader in and the fluid prose makes this a book that could easily be read in one sitting. Certainly it is difficult to find convenient places to stop as written without chapters there are no clear signposts for the reader and the narrative jumps about without warning meaning whole paragraphs can pass without the reader knowing who is talking. One must at times use the clues of the settings to get a handle on whether we are with Marthe or Renée.
Author Lynn Bushell draws on her Art History background to paint a tale which is as interesting for its historical setting as it is for the story itself, with tantalising descriptions of Paris streets and the changing face of a city ravaged by war. It is, however, the tragic tale of Renée Monchaty which we follow through from beginning to end. Vulnerable and damaged, much like the city she lives in, she falls in love with Pierre Bonnard and fights to become his one true muse.
Based on the real lives of the main characters Bushell acknowledges at the end of her novel the amount of research she had to do in order to build a story round the facts available to her in the numerous biographies written about Bonnard. Painted Ladies gives a fascinating insight into the lives of those immortalised in the paintings we see in galleries but of whom we know so little and will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever wanted to delve further into their worlds.