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.
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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 SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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