In turn of the last century Vienna, Wally Neuzil will do almost anything to provide for her family, so when painter Gustav Klimt needs a model, Wally is willing to try to become the artist’s muse. Her role will introduce her to members of Vienna’s best families. But rather than being treated like an equal, Wally becomes a pariah, viewed as little more than a prostitute. It’s only when Wally meets another young artist, one who’s determined to show her a better life, that she allows herself to fall in love and be swept away by passion. Postle introduces readers to some of the greatest artists of the 20th century, while examining the social mores and constrictions on women of the time. Lush and evocative Majorie Smith
I didn’t quite know what to expect when I started The Artist’s Muse. To be honest, I figured it would be a light historical book but it ended up being so much more. Starting the book I wasn’t actually sure that I knew about the major characters of the book, Wally Neuzil or Egan Schiele but somewhere along the way I started remembering that I saw a short documentary about Wally once because some events in the story were familiar to me. I loved this, of course.
What I noticed right from the start was how beautiful the writing was. The writing style was actually really unique and I loved how Wally ometimes spoke to the reader. That, together with the elegant writing made the story even more stunning to me.
For those who don’t know, this is the story of Wally Neuzil who was the muse (hence the title) of the controversial artist Egon Schiele. They had their ups and downs together but overall you could call it a pretty toxic relationship. But I thought this only made the end so much better, in my opinion. It was all written very well.
Lately I’ve been feeling drawn to books set in the early 1900’s and The Artist’s Muse ended up being so damn good that I definitely want to continue reading books in this era. I loved it all.
Overall, The Artist’s Muse by Kerry Postle was simple a work of art. It was poignant, stunning and I could barely put the book down. It’s definitely one of my favorite books of the year! (Stephanie, http://bookfever11.blogspot.co.uk/ )
This book has many threads which unravel throughout the novel – on feminism, class and art and the hypocrisy that envelops all three. This is certainly not for the faint hearted and despite the cover it is not chick lit.
Is Wally Neuzil a feminist role model? She’s clearly exploited and abused. Society does not protect her though she is a young girl. Is she a victim turned perpetrator? What choices are available to her? Surely you can only make choices when there are alternatives and in this novel there are none. There are times when the sisterhood is strong, the older models attempt to protect her, yet ultimately the sisterhood fails. And I do question if it exists at all in this novel.
And that brings me to the discussion of class in the novel where the class divide between women highlights the disparity between rich and poor and how power is distributed in favour of the former and to the detriment of the latter. The male perspective equally divides women into those that need protection and are deserving of respect (the privileged) and those to be used, abused and cast aside. The court scene is a good illustration of this. The press want Wally Neuzil’s blood. The judge condemns her. She is to blame for the offensive drawing . Yet for all his apparent horror we nevertheless know that he is a potential client for such work.
Then there’s the role of art and the artist. There are many references to the paintings of Klimt and Schiele in this novel which led me to the author’s website to see them for myself. Then there are the portrayals of the artists who see themselves at varying degrees above social norms. The artistic works by Schiele in particular are used to portray their rollercoaster of the relationship between Wally and Egon. It starts with straightforward modelling and progresses to what could be considered pornographic – legs splayed, genitals exposed . However, after Schiele’s imprisonment there is a marked change of direction as portrayed in Cardinal and Nun. Here artist and model are united for the first time. They are seen to mock society together which suggests a shift in the balance of power between the lovers. However, this is shortlived as seen when Schiele paints them both together in Death and the Maiden. This is particularly poignant and for me an overwhelmingly sad point in the novel.
This novel evokes a time and a place with such power. Wally Neuzil , so brave, yet so tragic, speaks with a voice to break your heart. I will certainly be recommending this to my reading group and given that it is an all female group I can’t wait to hear their views and to see if any concensus can be achieved on the treatment of women at that period and today. This novel is a deep and thought-provoking read and I highly recommend it. I can’t wait to read her next one. P.D.
“There are many things to like in this novel, but chief among them is choice of story that Postle chooses to tell. The fate of Wally Neuzil is one that will not be widely known among modern readers but lends itself beautifully to the revisionist tragedy that unfolds in this novel.
The author invites us to inhabit the mind of her young protagonist as she strives to make her way as a model in the studios of Vienna’s great artists of the early 20th century. As revealed by the paintings of Klimt and Schiele that are revered to this day, this was a sexually charged environment and it is refreshing that this novel provides us with a wholly female insight into this male-dominated world. This setting provides Postle with fertile ground to explore a range of weighty issues for the 21st century reader, including the objectification of women within society and the affect this can have on young girls, the existence of inequality within feminism and the archetype of the narcissistic male artist.
Yet it is perhaps the writing that elevates this beyond many historical novels. Postle gives her narrator a compelling voice, which enables the reader to digest what is at times a harrowing story. Moments of melodrama, tragedy and romance are interspersed with unexpected humour, due to the narrator’s ironic wit and razor sharp analysis of the world around her. All of this makes for a richly layered read, that delivers on many levels.” J. M.
“Richly entertaining, wry and funny, and at the same time dark, thoughtful and allusive, I shall look forward to reading this one again, and any more that come from this writer.” Kate J.