Book review: The Girl in the Green Jumper

I must admit, I am not that familiar with British artist Cyril Mann (1911-1980), but this book by his second wife Renske should change that.

Part memoir of her life, part celebration of Mann’s artistry, The Girl in the Green Jumper is filled with reproductions of the paintings which mark Mann out as a stylish painter of sunlight, places, and people.

Through Renske Mann’s recollections, we follow her as, arriving in London from the Netherlands at 19, she becomes fascinated by the 48 year old artist who will become her lover, husband, father figure and all-consuming passion.

In return, she becomes his muse and subservient partner, keeping uncomfortable poses so he can capture her body in his fascinating nude portraits, and coping with his mental instability and mania.

This is a story of two people meant to be together, and their twenty years existing together in what feels like a heightened power play. This said, Renske writes with love and admiration about ‘my man’, and she knew him best.

The Girl in the Green Jumper, named for a portrait of Renske which adorns the cover of this beautiful hardback, is a page-turner in a chatty and confiding style, where the cramped flat at Bevin Court with its oppressive studio, paints and oils, and clay in the bathtub, feel very real and now.

There are surprises, too, as Renske’s life takes a turn you might not expect, while remaining true to promoting the artistry of the husband, she could not help face his demons.

This is a fascinating and poignant book that may interest a wider readership than art lovers, given its central May-December focus and a definite feel for a 1960s London.

The Girl in the Green Jumper by Reneke Mann is published by Pimpernel Press and is widely available, priced £30.