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The Masterpiece by Émile Zola

The Masterpiece (1886)

by Émile Zola

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Les Rougon-Macquart (14)

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673920,775 (3.95)44
  1. 10
    The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism by Ross King (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Roman oder Sachbuch. Obwohl das Sachbuch von Ross King wirklich gut und lebendig geschrieben ist: noch besser, um das "Entstehen der modernen Malerei" und die Menschen dahinter zu verstehen, ist der Roman von Emile Zola. Ross King bezieht sich im übrigen auf Zola als Quelle.… (more)

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» See also 44 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Enjoyed this. I can see why so many of the Impressionists were a bit upset about the book. I think Zola was just being a tad too honest in his word painting - or perhaps they did not like to see it succeed when success eluded most of them in life. Tragedy, celebration, anger, relationships that flourish and fade, death, and intense sadness add emotional richness to the heart of the novel - the struggle of genius vs paint and canvas. ( )
  jannid | Jul 15, 2018 |
I read this for my Impressionism class, and while I was at first annoyed that we had to read a novel, I'm so glad we did. It really is tragic watching the deterioration of the marriage and love story of Claude and Christine, feeling her pain at being upstaged by a painting that her husband is obsessed with and loves more than he loves her, but in an infatuating and obsessive way. This adds to the beautiful meeting they have at the beginning of the novel, as well as the loss of their child at the end. Jacques really is the victim in this entire piece, ignored by his father who doesn't notice him and always silenced by his mother who only wishes for the attention of her husband. The various other characters are miserable yet intriguing as well, and it's interesting to try and determine who their real life counterparts are in the Impressionism world. Nevertheless, what became a tragic story intrigued me, and I never regretted reading this for class once.
( )
  erinla | Oct 31, 2017 |
This novel follows the struggle and tormenting passions of an artist in 19th Century Paris, his friendships, and what family life he has when not striving to produce his definitive masterpiece. There is psychological depth here in understanding the inner workings of a variety of extreme and ordinary personalities. Though what we have here is one of the great novels of self-destruction, it is not on the whole an unbalanced representation of artistic passion, as the other artists and characters in the novel all manage in their own different ways. Each has a slightly different view on art, and while to start with this fosters intellectual exchange and fires their artistic work, this changes throughout the novel as different personal motivations emerge. As the group grows apart, we see the tensions of jealousy due to their varying degrees of success and recognition.

The main character Claude bears many similarities to the Impressionists and Post-impressionists who were among Zola's friends when he wrote the novel. This was at a point when Impressionism was maturing but not yet accepted by the establishment, and this fight to gain recognition in large part drives the story. Cezanne is perhaps the main inspiration for Claude and his artistic vision, though there are also definite aspects of Manet and other painters in evidence. Likewise, the other characters of the novel are also influenced by the author's contemporaries, and he writes himself into the story too in a somewhat autobiographical account as Claude's good friend Pierre.

There is so much of interest here – an insight onto the life of an artist, the historical and social colour of 19th Century Paris, the nature of inspiration and obsession, human feeling and strife, wealth and poverty, and at least one exquisitely moving emotional scene. However for some this will be a challenging and depressing novel due to the suffering of the artist and those who are nearest to him. I would recommend it to anyone with at least a vague interest in this artistic and intellectual era, on its own merit as a novel of excellent literary quality, and as a brilliantly conceived tale of what could be described as a Pygmalion in reverse (which I won't explain to avoid spoiling the plot). ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Apr 21, 2017 |
This book is a masterpiece, so to speak. It centers around the "open air" (i.e., impressionist) Claude Lantier and his struggles to create a masterpiece. The counterpoint is his depressing and tragic relationship with Christine, who ends up a near-martyr to his art. Claude is surrounded by a La Boheme-like group of artists, writers, journalists, and others--including a character based on Zola who is writing a cycle of novels like the Rougon-Macquart cycle.

Zola sets out to write a naturalistic, scientific observation but can't help making it a true novel with a well-structured beginning, middle and end, and a certain amount of melodrama along the way. He also sets out to write a criticism of impressionism and the art world, but ends up making it more of an accidental tribute.

More than the other two Zola novels I've read, this one truly is about Paris. The peripatetic characters traverse much of Paris, with Zola describing all the streets and landmarks they pass in their wanderings. And Lantier's attempted masterpiece is an enormous painting of the _le de la Cit̩, which is described from every angle and at every time.

It is also much more of a novel of ideas, with long debates on the nature of art and its role in society.

It is also a riveting, moving story from beginning to end. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
In this volume of the Rougon-Macquart cycle, Zola explores the Parisian art world and artistic creativity, principally that of the protagonist, painter Claude Lantier, but also that of other painters, sculptors, journalists, and even a writer loosely based on Zola himself. Lantier is a son of Gervaise, the force of nature from L'assommoir, but was sent back to Plassans to go to school. His friendship with Sandoz (the Zola figure) and Dubuche (who becomes an architect) dates from those years, when the three of them walked for hours and even days over the Provençal landscape, dreaming of coming to Paris and revolutionizing the art world. (This really happened with Zola and Cezanne and a man called Baptistin Baille, who Wikipedia tells me became a professor of science; more on Cezanne later.)

There is a lot about the politics of the art world in this novel, including how various dealers operate. The famous Salon des Refusés of 1863, when works rejected by the official Paris Salon for its exhibition were shown in an annex by the decree of the emperor, is a highlight early in the book. Manet exhibited his "Déjeuner sur l'herbe" there, and in the novel Lantier exhibits a painting similar in some ways called "Plein air"; it is roundly jeered. Nonetheless, his "plein air" ideas are eventually copied by other artists. Later in the novel, the description of the politics of selecting pictures for the annual Salon becomes much more pointed.

The novel follows the arc of Lantier's career starting with his early days in Paris and focuses a great deal on his obsession with painting, with working every hour of the day, with being blind and deaf to interruptions, and on his artistic theories about being realistic, using natural light from the outdoors, and much more. Observing the paintings in the Salon des Refusés exhibit, Lantier muses:

"Some of the efforts were clumsy, inevitably, and some were childish, but the general tone was admirable and so was the light, a fine, silvery, diffused light with all the sparkle of open air! It was like a window thrown open on all the drab concoctions and the stewing juices of tradition, letting the sun pour in until the walls were as gay as a morning in spring, and the clear light of his own picture, the blue effect that had caused so much amusement, shone out brighter than all the rest. This was surely the long-awaited dawn, the new day breaking on the world of art!" p. 122

Later Lantier gets involved with a woman, Christine; they move to the country for some years and have a son who has some ill-defined health and mental problems. While they are happy there for some time, the siren call of Paris, his friends, and the art world lure Lantier back. He becomes even more obsessed with his work, eventually starting a huge project, the "masterpiece" of the title, that he works on for years and years, never quite getting it the way he wants it. Christine, who adores Lantier, is jealous of his painting and tries to get him to pay more attention to her and the son. Eventually, the plot becomes a little melodramatic.

The stories of Sandoz and some of the other creative people in the novel provide a counterpoint to Lantier's story. Some are successful, some sell out, some fail. Not surprisingly, Sandoz comes off very well; although he too is obsessed with his writing, he has a more well rounded life than Lantier, marrying a woman who seems delightful and hosting regular Thursday night dinners for his friends, dinners that become more elaborate as his novels begin to sell. Like Zola himself, he is writing a cycle of novels with a purpose:

"Look. The idea is to study man as he really is. Not this metaphysical marionette they've made us believe he is, but the physiological human being, determined by his surroundings, motivated by the functioning of his organs . . . That's the point we start from, the only possible basis for our modern revolution. The inevitable death of the old conception of society and the birth of a new society, and that means a new art is bound to spring up in a new ground . . . Oh, that's bound to happen! A new literature for the coming century of science and democracy!" p. 154

In this book, Zola describes the scenery of Paris in a painterly manner; it is filled with light and visual imagery to a degree I don't recall from works of his I've read earlier. There are also funny parts, and earthy parts, but a lot of the novel is sad and even horrifying as the reader sees Lantier's obsession taking hold of him in an unproductive and unhealthy way; since he comes from the Macquart side of the family, the reader expects some self-destructive tendency to become apparent.

Now to the controversy. Zola sent a copy of the book to his friend Cezanne, who then never spoke to him again. According to the introduction to my Oxford World's Classics edition, Zola based some personal characteristics on Cezanne, others on Manet, and of course made others up. But this was much talked about back in the day.

This was not my favorite of Zola's novels -- parts of it moved slowly and parts were melodramatic -- but the ins and outs of the art world were fascinating and so was the portrait of Paris.
7 vote rebeccanyc | Nov 30, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Émile Zolaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pearson, RogerIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pearson, RogerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walton, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Claude passait devant l'Hôtel de ville, et deux heures du matin sonnaient à l'horloge, quand l'orage éclata.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192839632, Paperback)

The Masterpiece is the tragic story of Claude Lantier, an ambitious and talented young artist who has come from the provinces to conquer Paris but is conquered instead by the flaws of his own genius. Set in the 1860s and 1870s, it is the most autobiographical of the twenty novels in Zola's Rougon-Macquart series. It provides a unique insight into Zola's career as a writer and his relationship with Cezanne, a friend since their schooldays in Aix-en-Provence. It also presents a well-documented account of the turbulent Bohemian world in which the Impressionists came to prominence despite the conservatism of the Academy and the ridicule of the general public.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:33 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

His masterpiece is the tragic story of Claude Lantier, an ambitious and talented young artist who has come from the provinces to conquer Paris but is conquered instead by the flaws of his own genius. Set in the 1860s and 1870s, it is the most autobiographical of the twenty novels in Zola's Rougon-Macquart series. It provides a unique insight into Zola's career as a writer and his relationship with Cezanne, a friend since their schooldays in Aix-en-Provence. It also presents a well-documented account of the turbulent Bohemian world in which the Impressionists came to prominence despite the conservatism of the Academy and the ridicule of the general public.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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