The Masterpiece is the tragic story of Claude Lantier, an ambitious
and talented young artist from the provinces who has come to
conquer Paris and is conquered by the flaws in his own genius.
While his boyhood friend Pierre Sandoz becomes a successful
novelist, Claude's originality is mocked at the Salon and turns
gradually into a doomed obsession with one great canvas. Life - in
the form of his model and wife Christine and their deformed child
Jacques - is sacrificed on the altar of Art. The Masterpiece is the
most autobiographical of the twenty novels in Zola's
Rougon-Macquart series. Set in the 1860s and 1870s, it provides a
unique insight into his career as a writer and his relationship
with Cézanne, a friend since their schooldays in Aix-en-Provence.
It also presents a well-documented account of the turbulent Bohemia
world in which the Impressionists came to prominence despit the
conservatism of the Academy and the ridicule of the general public.