I Am Rembrandt's Daughter by Lynn Cullen
|I Am Rembrandt's Daughter by Lynn Cullen|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A fictionalised story about the real-life daughter of Rembrandt van Rijn, inspired by two of his paintings. It's about the imperative of genius, family secrets and young love. It gets off to a slow start, but is gripping once it gets going, and has a wonderful evocation of Amsterdam in its golden age.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: March 2008|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC|
Cornelia lives in misery and poverty with her eccentric father, the famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn. His glory days long past, Rembrandt is mocked and reviled by much of Amsterdam society. He doesn't sell many paintings any more, and yet he persists in his rough style, refusing to paint in the desirable detailed smooth style. Cornelia's mother and Rembrandt's common-law wife died of the plague, leaving Cornelia and her half-brother, Titus, to the not-particularly-tender mercies of the irascible artist.
Life isn't easy for Cornelia. They have no money and are forced to eat cabbage soup day after day; it's all they can afford. And despite a natural understanding of art, her father has never painted her, nor allowed her even to mix his pigments. Instead, all his care and attention is lavished on Titus. Cornelia doesn't resent Titus for this; he's a bright, vital young man and what little light there is in Cornelia's world is created by him. Instead, she resents Rembrandt, the man who wouldn't marry her mother, whose eccentricities shame her in society, who doesn't care a fig for his own daughter.
Titus marries and leaves home and Cornelia strikes up a relationship with a wealthy young boy called Carel. Rembrandt, showing an unusual interest in her activities, doesn't like the relationship one bit. And gradually, Cornelia begins to realise that there is more to her past than her father has ever told her.
I am Rembrandt's Daughter is told in alternate chapters of past and present. Those set in her past, before Rembrandt's fall from grace, and when her mother was still alive, reveal the background to Cornelia's present, which is so full of shame, anger and bitterness. Through Cornelia, we see the difficulties in living with a driven personality, no matter how talented they may be. We also see how family secrets smoulder long past the time they could have been over and forgotten if only they'd been faced honestly from the start. We also see young love in all its fear, passion and misunderstanding.
The book really does bring to life 17th century Amsterdam during the Dutch Golden Age. It's a busy commercial centre, full of wealth and sophistication, yet it is also religiously strict and prey to the feared contagion of the plague. Inspired by two of Rembrandt's paintings, Bathsheba with King David's Letter and a portrait of Nicolaes Bruyningh, it also displays a sensitive and knowledgeable understanding of the Dutch grand master's work. It's rather inspirational here - Rembrandt was a radical in his day, and this book portrays this very well. Rebelling against contemporary strictures is nothing new, but it's always a revelation when you realise this as a teenager, isn't it? Art rebellion didn't start with Banksy.
It all gets off to a slightly slow start and there are a couple of Americanisms - Papa was mad at me - that grated a little, but once the book gets going, it's tremendously gripping and you find yourself rooting for Cornelia, whilst also hoping that she comes to realise the fortune she has in being, well, Rembrandt's daughter.
Recommended for all teenage fans of art and historical fiction, especially girls.
My thanks to the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.
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