- Cézanne's Parrot by Amy Guglielmo
Guglielmo, Amy Cézanne's Parrot; illus. by Brett Helquist. Putnam, 2020 [40p] Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-525-51508-1 $17.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-525-51509-8 $10.99 Reviewed from galleys Ad 5-8 yrs
As nineteenth-century artist Paul Cézanne runs up against critical censure by taste-makers at the Académie des Beaux-Arts and the progressive Impressionist exposition, even his parrot Bisou seems to concur with their dismissal. When Cézanne insists, "'Repeat after me … Cézanne is a great painter!' Bisou opened his beak as if to speak … But he just yawned instead." After rounds of frustration, scads of advice, and years of convincing himself to stick to his own vision, the artist finds success, and Bisou finally confers approbation. The parrot storyline that propels this picture book bio is, according to Guglielmo's concluding notes, based on an observation by a contemporary art critic, with invented dialogue mixed into the text along with credited quotations. It's an amusing concept, but it's not really enough to carry the slight and familiar story. Helquist's oil paintings are calibrated to the light-hearted but ultimately extraneous parrot plot, with the balding, pink-nosed artist looking perpetually grumpy and disappointed, and his critics looking gleefully mean-spirited. End matter includes source notes and a thoughtful recap of the artist's struggle and eventual acclaim; a list of Cézanne's paintings depicted in the book (page reference is made, but the pages themselves are unnumbered) is helpful. There's a missed opportunity, though, to label and/or likewise credit the many paintings in the background of Helquist's scenes, which could help viewers compare Cézanne's paintings with those of his peers.