Novelist and art historian Ross King has won a loyal following with his intriguing bestsellers Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling. His scholarly accounts paired with the wit and wisdom of a born storyteller have captivated all. This author continues to educate and entertain with "The Judgment of Paris."
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. Manet did not suffer criticism with equanimity; in fact, he challenged one of his detractors to a duel.
This was a landmark time in the history of art, and King recalls it with vibrancy, recalling the manners and mores of that day.
Voice performer Tristan Layton reads both the abridged and unabridged versions with clarity and vigor as artists and writers of that day are also called into play.
Very highly recommended.
- Gail Cooke
In this book, Ross King sets out to present the beginnings of impressionism in France in the latter half of 19th century.
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. The author is not consistent in this practice and keeps the original titles for the most famous works, such as Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. Why not, in his logic, `Lunch on the Lawn ` or `The Picnic'?
Overall, there is little justification to recommend this book to anyone.