The Masterpiece
    
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Perhaps the most autobiographical of Zola’s Rougon-Macquart cycle of novels, The Masterpiece is a hard, bleak and raw portrait of unrecognised artistic genius. Claude Lantier, brother to Nana and son of Gervaise, is a struggling painter who dreams of conquering Paris’s art scene with his revolutionary ‘open air’ style of painting. Discouraged and mocked, Claude retreats to the countryside with a young woman from Clermont, with whom he has fallen in love, before returning to Paris, where he continues to experience rejection at every turn. Zola’s depiction of a frustrated artist is said to have drawn heavily on the real-life experiences of Édouard Manet and Paul Cézanne, the latter of whom broke off his friendship with the author upon reading the novel.
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