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The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism Hardcover – January 10, 2006

132 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. NBCC finalist King (Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling) presents an engrossing account of the years from 1863—when paintings denied entry into the French Academy's yearly Salon were shown at the Salon des Refusés—to 1874, the date of the first Impressionist exhibition. To dramatize the conflict between academicians and innovators during these years, he follows the careers of two formidable, and very different, artists: Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, a conservative painter celebrated for detailed historical subjects, and Édouard Manet, whose painting Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe caused an uproar at the Salon des Refusés. Many other artists of the day, among them Courbet, Degas, Morisot, Monet and Cézanne, are included in King's compelling narrative, and the story is further enhanced by the author's vivid portrayal of artistic life in Paris during a turbulent era that saw the siege of the city by the Prussians and the fall of Napoleon III. An epilogue underscores the irony of the tale: after his death, Meissonier quickly fell from favor, while Manet, whose paintings were once judged scandalous, was recognized as a great artist who set the stage for Impressionism and the future of painting. Illus. not seen by PW. (Feb.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Ross King has an impressive track record chronicling the transformative nature of genius. His Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling (**** Mar/Apr 2003) wrapped their author's extensive knowledge of European culture in brisk, compelling prose. King continues his march through art history's great moments in The Judgment of Paris and emerges with another triumph. Though the central drama is focused on Manet and Meissonier, The Boston Globe criticizes the book as "at heart an institutional, rather than artistic history." But it is King's sympathy for the fortunes of both Meissonier and Manet that affords him the narrative backbone to paint such a far-reaching story onto one interesting canvas.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; First Edition edition (January 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802714668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802714664
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ross King is the author of the bestselling Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling, as well as the novels Ex-Libris and Domino. He lives in England, near Oxford.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Reader 100 on February 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Ross King has written a fine book, rich in detail, which covers the emergence of the Impressionists against an engaging background of the political, military, scientific, and cultural trends of mid-19th century France. Perhaps unintentionally, he has also made a case for rehabilitating Ernest Meissonier, the painter whose reputation went into eclipse as the world went nuts over Manet, Monet, and their ilk. We are told that Meissonier possessed colossal self-regard and hauteur, but the details adduced in THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS show him to be: generous (he supported a bankrupted blacksmith and a poor woman in Antibes), forgiving (when his son damaged his most important canvas), an ally to other artists (he signed his name to a petition over restrictive judging rules), a meticulous craftsman (he made countless models and sketches and even grew a wheat field to be trampled so he could paint it), and, most especially, wise about the vagaries of posthumous reputations ("Life. How little it really comes to.").

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.
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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Rosa Ines Vera on November 16, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Although the book is entertaining, I am surprised at the huge number of typographical errors that appear in the Kindle version. Not having the hard copy, I don't know if these errors are in the original publication but names are misspelled throughout as well as common words. These errors are repeated. Words such as intuition, unfortunately, prostitute appear as inmition, unformnately, prostimte, respectively. The architect of the Paris Opera is Charles Garnier but in the book is Gamier. There are many more of these errors.

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.
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114 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Rico Lebrun on January 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I dislike many history books. History books written by academics for academics. (Publish or perish isnt exactly producing pageturners.) Books written by people who have "colleagues" and actually use that word more than once a week. Ahhh, but I love art. I love the history of art. Ross King is my hero. He can take a time line filled with people, places and dates and keep me turning the page. He made me understand one of my favorite times in the history of art, the passing of the french academic tradition into more modern forms of art. King infuses the caracters with life and makes you care about them. We meet Manet and learn the hardships he endured trying to show his work under the Salon system. We are introduced to Meissonier, the reigning champion of art in the 1800's. Never heard of him? Same here. This book is the story of the "greatest" artist, who we have completly forgotten and an artist who never was accepted in his life time, whom we all know.
THAT is the suff of great literature and life lessons. Long life the King!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Tyson Underwood on September 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Excellent. Reads like a novel. Interweaves the political, social and cultural events of an exciting period in modern art history.

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.
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82 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Marco Antonio Abarca VINE VOICE on April 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ross King had a good idea in contrasting the lives of Ernest Meissonier, the most famous painter of his time with Edouard Manet, the father of Impressionism. Using the annual painting Salon as a fulcrum, King attempts to illustrate the reversal of fortunes of these two great painters. Unfortunately, King does not deliver on the central argument of his book.

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.
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