The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism Paperback – Oct 24 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Listening to Layton is like sitting at a Left Bank cafe with a British friend who knows both the history and gossip of the 1860s' Paris art scene and can put it all in political context. Layton has a friendly, low-pitched voice, good tempo and pace. He's never overly dramatic, but does lift an amusing vocal eyebrow quoting some of the more pompous figures of the period. King describes the mid-century revolution in French art by focusing on the lives and canvases of the extremes of the period. Ernest Meissonier is wildly successful and wealthy, patiently mirroring every face and frock and hoofbeat in precise historical detail, while Edouard Manet is rejected and scorned by the public, peers, critics and buyers for the manner in which he illuminated his impressions of scenes and characters. As Manet gradually moves from brown hues to vibrant colors and from classical to modern settings, King shows his influence on those younger contemporaries—Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas et al.—who came to be known as the Impressionists. Artists, art historians and connoisseurs will be transfixed by this description of the seismic shift in art from the mirror to the lamp. The rest of us may slide over the names of unfamiliar artists, critics, mistresses, models and political figures to focus on the heart of this fascinating story.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
King is a master at linking pivotal moments in art history to epic rivalries. In his third supremely engaging and illuminating inquiry (following Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, 2003), King summons forth mid-nineteenth-century Paris and vividly portrays two diametrically opposed artists. Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, "the world's wealthiest and most celebrated painter," spends years laboring over his meticulously detailed historical paintings, eliminating every trace of the brush and striving for scientific precision. Newcomer Edouard Manet dispenses with the historical claptrap and the highly polished finish that are Meissonier's stock in trade, and boldly creates sharp contrasts and "vigorous brushstrokes" to depict ordinary people and brazenly matter-of-fact female nudes. Meissonier is a crowd-pleaser, Manet nearly instigates riots. King follows the fortunes of this pair of celebrity artists over the course of a decade as Meissonier becomes a "giant to be slain" and Manet is anointed king of the impressionists. Writing with zest and a remarkable command of diverse and fascinating facts, and offering keen insights into the matrix of art, politics, social mores, and technology, King charts the coalescence of a movement that changed not only painting for all time but also our way of seeing the world. And perhaps most laudably, he resurrects a discredited and forgotten figure, the marvelous monomaniac Meissonier, a man King has bemused affection and respect for, and an artist readers will be delighted to learn about. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Now, King takes us to Paris in the middle of the 19th century, the time between two important exhibitions - the Salon De Refuses in 1863 and the first showing of Impressionist paintings in 1874. To chronicle this tumultuous period in the world of art, King wisely tells the story through the eyes of two men, rivals for approval - Ernest Meissonier, a famous painter who had already achieved success, and Edouard Manet, a leader of the avant-garde.
Yes, the two artists were poles apart in their artistic approach, but there was more to their dislike of one another. During the Franco-Prussian War, Manet was a staff officer and Meissonier his superior. Meissonier, mean spirited and very full of himself, treated Manet coldly, never acknowledging the fact that he was a fellow painter. Of course, in Meissonier's eyes he had no colleagues; after all he was the most famous painter of his time, and recipient of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour.
Meissonier's work was predictable, full of detail in his historical scenes, yet his paintings were in great demand. Manet, on the other hand, enjoyed no such popularity. His work was denigrated by the Salon, citing moral and artistic grounds - nudity was not acceptable unless it was portrayed in the distant past, certainly not in a painting showing a nude woman and men in dress of that time.Read more ›
He may only be commended for the amazing research that he accomplished and that allows him to provide a slew of details regarding protagonists, events and context.
The basic premise of the book is to draw a parallel between the lives and works of Ernest Meissonier, a now forgotten champion of traditional art, and Édouard Manet, seen as the incarnation of artistic innovation. For good measure, the political evolution of France in that period, that is the rise and fall of Napoleon III, is thrown in. The book's chapters, which are short, thus alternate from one topic to the other to the third. This makes the train of thought often very difficult to follow.
Worse, Meissonier is of little interest to 21st century readers, Claude Monet was the true initiator of impressionism (with which Édouard Manet did not particularly associate) and the movement really developed after Napoleon III was ousted from power, national politics having little to do with painting anyway. Thus, the whole foundation of the book is shaky. The result is a long and drawn out work that turns out to be outright tedious.
This is by no means alleviated by the lay-out which is hopelessly antiquated with some low quality black and white photos inserted here and there in the main text and eight pages of colour plates grouped together in the middle of the book.
Strangely, the author chooses to provide only English-language titles for most of the paintings with no mention of the original French. Of course, this makes googling more difficult if the reader wishes to know more about the work or simply to look at a decent reproduction.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is fine to argue now, as a fatuous NY Times review did, that Meissonier's major work, Friedland: 1807, is "fussy," but attention must also be paid to the quote in King's book that sheds important light on the Impressionists: On page 196, Claude Monet says: "It really is appallingly difficult to do something which is complete in every respect, and I think most people are content with mere approximations." Meissonier emerges, like his paintings, in three dimensions; Manet, like his, in two. Manet is portrayed as petulant, mean, and petty, refusing at first even to meet Monet because of a belief that the younger man was stealing his name. And while it is certain that the moneyed classes preferred Meissonier and kept him in high style, the younger artists were beneficiaries of shameless logrolling, particulary by Emile Zola. When Zola saw a Manet he apparently didn't like, he simply clammed up.
Ideally, viewers would judge art by looking at it and applying their own aesthetic standards. To take one example from the evil "conservatives" cited by King who tried to thwart the generation of 1863, I suggest looking at Dominique Ingres' "Princesse Debroglie" on the Web. Is this the painting of a hidebound no-talent? Or view Meissonier's "The Campaign of France." King calls it one of the greatest depictions of motion ever captured on canvas, and I see no cause to dispute him. Meissonier is forgotten, yes, but thanks to King maybe now he will get a little attention -- not as much as the sainted Impressionists, mind you, but a little.
In addition to this, in the Kindle edition, plates are referred to but do not appear. Since this is a book on painting, this is indeed important and a pity that they do not do so.
THAT is the suff of great literature and life lessons. Long life the King!
Ross King follows the careers of Manet and Meissionier, painters at opposite poles of the art establishment, in the decade between the first Salon des Refuses in 1863 and the first Impressionist show in 1874. Set against the lite-opera of France's Second Empire under Louis Napoleon, he champions both artists and alternates back and forth between their very different careers.
Meissonier was the successful leader of the Salon style of historical painting with it's meticulous attention to detail and bourgeois moral value. Manet broke with the conventions of Salon painting and took on "the painting of modern life" with a direct style of brush handling that infuriated most critics and precipitated the Impressionist movement.
In addition to quick sketches of the other players in the Paris art scene - Zola, Baudelaire, Delacroix, Courbet, Monet, Hugo, Degas and many more, he engrossingly chronicles the Salon process and the way it dominated the careers of artists and the attention of the rising middle class.
This is an excellent introduction to the histrionic drama of late nineteenth century Modernist painting.
By focusing on the painting Salons of 1863-74, King shifts the focus of the book from a biography of Meissonier and Manet to the business component of these Salons. Ross never really takes us into their interior lives. This was a very important decade for the development of modern painting and unfortunately we only get thumbnail sketches of the other great Impressionist painters and the world that helped shape them.
Finally, I was dissapointed that King quickly concludes his thesis on the reversal of fortunes in the very last chapter of the book. There is no doubt that Edouard Manet was the more influential painter of the two. He was one of the giants of the 19th Century. However, for King's thesis to work, Manet must reach great heights while Meissonier must dissapears into mediocre obscurity. But I am not so sure that Meissonier is the forgotten figure that King wants us to believe. Ernest Meissonier was one of the great historical painters and his works are very well known to people who appreciate this genre of painting. Ernest Meissioner was not the mediocre figure that King dishonestly wants us to believe.
Ross King writes very well and his book is geared towards the general reading public. I wanted to like this book but in the end, he was not able to sell me on his thesis. For those who like the period, I would recommend "Art, War & Revolution in France 1870-1871: Myth, Reportage and Reality" by John Milner. Milner's beautifully illustrated book is not geared for the general reading public but it does a much better job of capturing the feel of the period.