Book review: The Sleeping Gypsy, by Mordicai Gerstein

Gerstein, Mordicai. The Sleeping Gypsy. Holiday House, 2016. $16.95. ISBN 9780823421428. Unp. Ages 3-8. P7Q9

Art is subjective. Both the assumed value of a particular work of art, and the story said to have inspired the artist to create it, are often invented by observers. The inherent subjectivity of art is at the center of Mordicai Gerstein’s The Sleeping Gypsy. This illustrated book is named for the late nineteenth century work by French painter Henri Rousseau. A girl encounters the painting in a museum—supposedly MoMA where the painting currently hangs—and questions the Gypsy’s story. In Gerstein’s explanation, the Gypsy, whose origin remains a mystery, comes to Rousseau in a lucid dream. The lion is just one of several animals who approach the Gypsy and wonder about her as she sleeps. According to the story, Rousseau’s original painting included all of the animals, but each was eliminated after compromising the painter’s creativity. Gerstein’s genesis story passes the subjectivity of art from the observer to the observed, making the subject of the painting ponder its own evolution. The Sleeping Gypsy is effectively illustrated in Rousseau’s highly recognizable style and palette, as if Rousseau painted his own dreams. It is creatively written using interesting figurative language. A short biography of Henri Rousseau is located in the Author’s Note on the last page of the book.

Verdict: Fans of Rousseau’s work, or post-impressionists in general will enjoy this book regardless of age. This would be a useful addition to an elementary art appreciation curriculum.

February 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

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