Pissarro Book ‘Begins’ Story : Stone Finishes Novel on Impressionist
Novelist Irving Stone, 82, looked over a vista of his hometown of San Francisco and said he was inspired at a young age by the great writers who emerged from the Bay Area.
However, he said he does not know where his talent derived that has resulted in 25 books selling 30 million copies worldwide, the latest being “Depths of Glory,” the story of the French Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro. (Doubleday, $19.95).
“I grew up like every other kid in the world,” said Stone, who played rugby at San Francisco’s Lowell High School. “I was always fascinated by athletics. I was also ambitious and knew San Francisco created great writers. I read them all.”
He said Jack London was one of his favorite local writers, along with Gertrude Atherton, Dashiell Hammett and George Sterling.
Stone, who early unsuccessfully tried his hand at writing plays, was born July 14, 1903, the anniversary of France’s Bastille Day. In 1926, he went to Paris, arriving the day the newspaper headlines moaned the death of painter Claude Monet. He was also exposed to the vivid paintings of Van Gogh and began to research the artist’s life.
During that period, he followed the ghostly past of other late 19th-Century painters while on the trail of Vincent Van Gogh, crossing the life of Pissarro, whom he considers the least-known “but one of the greatest and heroic” of the French Impressionists.
Stone’s book on Van Gogh, “Lust for Life,” was published after 19 rejections and started him on a career that was to make him famous as the father of the biographical novel. He says the book on Pissarro is the beginning of a story that ends with Van Gogh.
“ ‘Depths of Glory’ is the first half of the story, except I wrote the second half first,” said Stone, whose wife of 51 years, Jean, edits all his manuscripts before he submits them to the publisher.
To put realism and life into his novel, the Stones traveled the same French roads as Pissarro did in the late 1900s, visiting the places he lived, the farmlands and rivers he painted and the studios where he worked. He also did a complete biography of all the characters Pissarro was involved with in his artistic world--Monet, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh--before starting the book.
“I had a marvelous time finding his homes, living in them, detailing them,” Stone said. “I spent time in his studios, measuring the windows for light.
“I wanted to live intimately with Camille and his artist friends, determining their values, finding the qualities that sustained them through brutal hardships.”
300 Pages Cut
Stone said her husband had so much material that she had to cut 300 pages from the final manuscript--taking out what amounted to full-blown portraits of many of Pissarro’s famous contemporaries.
“I kept him on track, sticking to what was relevant to the story,” Jean said of the five years of research, writing and editing that went into the book. “I had to say, ‘This is the story of Pissarro,’ so the main character wouldn’t be obscured.”
Stone said Pissarro always fascinated him because, although impoverished, he painted gallantly and tirelessly despite endless rejection and abuse by critics and established galleries. He sometimes had to sell a painting for as little as $2 just to feed his children--less than the cost of the canvas and oils--paintings that today are rare treasures.
But, Stone said, Pissarro was a binding force that held his artistic group together as a movement and which finally resulted in their triumph as the school of the French Impressionists. Alone, the author said, many of the artists would have failed to be recognized.
“Endurance is a noble human quality and everybody needs it,” he said, adding that the survival of the artists as a group was an important value to Pissarro.
“The Impressionists of France in 1855 may be the single greatest movement that ever painted in the history of the world,” Stone said. “They had their differences, but they were a fraternity.”