Sacre’ Bleu is a completely surprising story of a grand age of tortured, starving artists, whole communities of painters in Paris who labored with each other and fought with each other. But if the triumphs and downfalls of struggling artists aren’t really all that interesting, just mix in a mystical immortal creature who creates the necessary blue paint and a whole lot of syphilis.
The book opens with the death of Vincent van Gogh, shortly after the ear incident. Moore spends the next 350 pages unfolding a gnawing riddle at a teasingly slow pace, but the story is saved by the completely outrageous characters and their seemingly unrelated antics. It is only at the end of the story that the sordid details of these artists’ personal lives all come into focus in the story. As for those drawn-from-history characters, I only wish everyone could have a friend like Moore’s depiction of the artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, who in this work is best known for his fierce loyalty and even fiercer drinking. The book is both touching and hilarious, but in a witty—even artistic—way.
Of course, the story will be much easier to follow if the reader has a sense of these artists, but for those who are not up on their art history, the book is loaded with full-color reproductions of some of the great works of art that are mentioned in the story. Almost as fun to read as the story line is the behind-the-scenes stories of some of the world’s best known works of art.
While the book is billed as humor, it isn’t the sidesplitting depictions of humor that generally fill the genre. This is far more subtle, almost in the way that an art aficionado would be expected to laugh. It is sometimes mocking, other times sheer wit.