Monet & Oscar
By Joe Byrd
Essence of Light
A Historical Novel
At the end of WWI, Oscar, an American soldier in a French Army hospital, learned of his mother's death while recovering from his war wounds. He remained in France to search for his father, an Impressionist painter, whose identity his mother never revealed. Through curious circumstances, he's hired to be a gardener for Claude Monet. Oscar jumped at the opportunity to further his landscaping career by working in Monet's world-famous garden at Giverny. He hoped the most renowned Impressionist could help him find his father.
Monet, tired and disheartened by his ailing health and deteriorating eyesight, took Oscar along on visits to his previous painting venues and allowed him to meet some of his art-world friends. These meetings provided insights into Monet's life and art and clues to Oscar's father's identity.
On a train returning from Paris to Giverny, Oscar met and fell in love with Isabelle, a beautiful young American artist, who introduced him to the emerging 1920's fashions and mores. She is the daughter of one of Monet's major American clients, which interests him. Over Monet's daughters' objections, Isabelle and Oscar become regular guests at family gatherings as their infatuation blossoms into a unique love affair. Oscar's past, present, and future collide in a way that he could not have anticipated.
Details of Monet's colorful life are accurate in almost every case. Oscar is a fictional character who is introduced to help illustrate the personality of Monet and enliven the reading experience.
My Search for
My Garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.
I first found Claude Monet while sitting among 300 students in a college Humanities 101 class. He spoke to me. He told me about color, brush strokes, and impressions rather than photographic reproduction of live scenes. He became a lifelong friend who helped a boy from the West Virginia coal region learn about art.
Ten years later I was riding in a 1950 Cadillac sedan, the kind the mob bosses used, into Paris to deliver it to the French film industry. It was late at night when we arrived at a small smoky restaurant in the Contrescarpe neighborhood. I woke the next morning under a glass ceiling covering a porch/bedroom blinded by the spring sun. From that moment on, I was in love with Paris and the cobble stone streets and the ancient buildings that surrounded me.
Monet and I didn’t visit on that trip, but when I returned home to California, I visited an exhibition at the de Young Museum and I was hooked on his paintings which I experienced for the first time in person. We have been close friends ever since. I attended every exhibit I could find and visited many of our nation’s top museums from San Francisco to Chicago to New York and Washington DC and counted the Monet’s on display.
At every stop, I purchased books about Monet.
Each book was a revelation about his life and art. There was only one thing missing. The authors didn’t devote much if any space to describe Monet as a person. I scrutinized each one looking for the motivations and personality of the artist who created such masterpieces.
I traveled to Paris to learn more. The Musée d'Orsay was my first top. There were many fine paintings and several books I didn’t have in my collection. But I thought there must be more. By chance, I found the Musée Marmottan where Monet’s private collection was housed. I boarded the Metro that took me to Psassy on the outskirts of Paris where I walked through a park full of excited children to this Empire period townhouse that contains some of Monet’s finest work and many paintings from his later life that I hadn’t seen before. Still little about Monet the man was available.
I visited his home at Giverny and spent the night in his son, Michael’s home. In Monet’s garden and around his lily pond, I began to find him. I walked the fields where he painted at dawn the next morning, to feel and see what he experienced. When I walked back through Monet’s garden, I found him sitting on a bench staring at the lilies in the pond. We didn’t speak. I was reluctant to disturb his concentration of the scene that he spent decades painting. The essence of light that reflected from the flowers and water had captured his soul and there was little room for anything else.
As I roamed his house and studio, I began to feel the presence of the master. With each return trip, I felt I understood him better. The Japanese wood block prints in his dining room stunned me. What were they? Why were they there? What role did they play in his art? Now, I was also on the search for answers to these questions to understand the Japanese connection. This search led me to revealing information about Monet and the Impressionist movement which I have included in this book.
I returned to California and began to read and re-read the many books I had collected as I purchased more. Most notably, Daniel Wildenstein’s Monet: The Triumph of Impressionism, a four-volume set which contains every one of his paintings plus a good history of Monet’s life and Ross King's Mad Enchantment. I also attended exhibitions of Japanese woodblock prints in San Francisco and at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. At last, I was getting a clearer picture of Monet and his fellow painters.
This thirty-year research project led me to commit to writing a book about Monet the man and the family he depended upon. After ten years of writing the opening scene in my head, I finally sat down to write it in 2019. I chose to write a novel instead of a biography because I felt it would be more powerful for the reader. This novel is the result of those years of discovery. I hope you will feel my effort has been worth it and that your time will be well spent reading Monet & Oscar: Essence of Light.
Joe Byrd’s journalism and communications college degrees inspired him to become a pioneer in electronic publishing. As a McGraw-Hill editor, he managed a computer publishing system. In the new PC software industry, he wrote one of his two books using PC desktop publishing software, the first for a major publishing house, Prentice Hall.
In his fifty-year career, he published magazines, magazines and research reports and launched one of the first digital photography websites. At one point, he published six public websites at the same time. His novel, Monet & Oscar is the first in a series of historical novels. In many ways, it follows his lifetime dedication to being a communications pioneer.