Three & Out

  • By Joye Shepperd
  • February 4, 2016

A trio of questions for Hannah Rothschild

Three & Out

In The Improbability of Love, author Hannah Rothschild introduces us to a fake painting by the real artist Jean-Antoine Watteau. As her novel reveals, the art world may not be the nicest place to work, what with its scheming dealers and patrons who will go to interesting lengths to get their hands on beautiful objects.

In your novel, you’ve given a fictitious painting called “The Improbability of Love” a voice, a past, and a personality. It has seen a lot of walls and events and is friendly with other works of art. Yet it has a rather skeptical sensibility when it comes to love. Why did you make the painting so human?

When I was a child, I used to be bored in museums and would wish that the paintings could talk. I imagined that they would tell me what their “painter” was like; the circumstances of their creation; about all the people who bought them and what they witnessed. In this novel, I was finally able to indulge this fantasy and make the artwork speak. As the painting was done in 1703, I imagined a pre-revolutionary French kind of person and then, as it went around the world with its different owners, I made [the painting’s] accent and voice reflect those who had owned and loved him.

Why did you choose to assemble a cast of outrageous characters — from sheiks to rappers to high-end art dealers — to highlight the subjectivity of art’s value? It seems like collecting art is the perfect antidote to their frenzied lifestyle.  

When I was writing, I worried that I had made the characters too diverse and over the top. But then I would visit an auction house or art dealer and knew that I had never gone far enough.

Considering that most of the characters would pay an arm and a leg for “The Improbability of Love,” would you agree that art isn’t so subjective after all?

Art is totally subjective. Paintings are just a piece of canvas daubed with oil paint. So the definition of a masterpiece must be something that lots of people admire and desire. “The Improbability of Love” has the ability to drive many people crazy with desire — hence its price.

Joye Shepperd is senior features editor of the Washington Independent Review of Books.

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