The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls

Book - 2012
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Paris, 1878. Following their father's sudden death, the Van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opera, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous Ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of émile Zola's naturalist masterpiece L'Assommoir. Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged 14. Meanwhile, Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous émile Abadie, must choose between honest labour and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde. Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of "civilized society." In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation--her survival, even--lies with the other.

Publisher: Toronto : HarperCollins, c2012.
ISBN: 9781443412346
Characteristics: 357 p. ;,23 cm.


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CatherineG_1 May 28, 2017

Read this with my book club. Loved the book. The story was very well done and based loosely on two sisters who were Degas's models for his art work. The ballerinas who posed for him earned more for their modelling than their work in the dance company. Great insights into the art and dance world. Also take a look at his paintings to truly appreciate the book.

May 21, 2017

The author does well to bring 19th century Paris to life—as well as weave a story in the empty spaces of what is known about historical people and events—but I did not particularly care for the plot or the characters she created. Sadly, it was plodding and boring and it took me far too long to get through.

May 16, 2016

Degas is a minor character in this book, with the main protagonist being the model for his statue, Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer. Marie and Antoinette are sisters trying to support themselves and their little sister. Marie becomes a dancer, and supplements her income by modeling for Degas. While the story takes some bizarre, far-fetched detours, the relationship between the sisters is the heart of the book. This is a nice read for anyone who likes ballet or art history.

Mar 23, 2016

The Art Lovers Book Club read and discussed this on March 20, 2016 and rated it 6.7 out of 10. The lowest rating was a 2 and the highest was a 9, which means we had a great discussion with really varying viewpoints.

PoMoLibrary Jul 21, 2015

From our 2015 #80DayRead Summer Reading Club traveler Rachel: I greatly enjoy this story. What a treat when you love history and art.

Jun 20, 2015

A beautiful book, I loved reading it for my English class.

Jun 16, 2015

The Painted Girls purports to tell the story of the van Goethem girls, desperately poor young women who live with their mother in the shadow of Montmatre. The novel is based in historical fact – Marie van Goethem at the age of 14 was the model for Degas’ wax sculpture, The Little Dancer. [See the Musee d’Orsay and/or the Tate for images and info]
Antoinette and Marie tell the story of their life in and about the Paris Opera Ballet in alternating chapters. Life in Paris in the late 1880s was difficult, crime was rife, labourers worked long hours, and prostitution was a common resort. The author weaves together the true events of the day with a fictionalized account of the family. In truth, Marie “Van Goethem, disappeared shortly after Degas’s sculpture was finished. She was dismissed from the Paris Opera Ballet in 1882 for being late to a rehearsal, and poof—c’est fini.” [Smithsonian] Buchanan has chosen to show us what Marie does after the sculpture is shown to the public. Like The Girl with the Pearl Earring, this novel gives the reader a possible back story to a very famous artwork. An enjoyable read for anyone interested in (Impressionist) art and historical fiction.

May 29, 2014

looking forward to reading this a second time.

This book is well written, has some brilliant insight into live in poverty stricken Paris. I will never look at a Degus painting with the same eyes. However the author falls short of genius. Why could she not have made this an epic, more complex charachter development and more detail about why some of those minor characters made those choices. Who were those ballet teachers? What were those nuns doing for fallen women. More background about the drama in the laundry and more about the life and struggles of some of the other ballerinas. If the author had taken another year to write this book it could have become a classic instead of a great read.

Kaytee33 Dec 08, 2013

A very memorable story of two sisters. A bit sad though - I had to take breaks when things got bad for the girls.

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