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.