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on February 25, 2006
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. 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.
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on November 16, 2012
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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on January 26, 2006
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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on September 2, 2006
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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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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VINE VOICEon June 13, 2006
If not, here is a chance to find out. Two figures left an imprint on the French art amidst the turbulent times of the late nineteenth century. Manet, whom history dubbed the father of Impressionism (although at the time art critics branded him untalented) and Meissonier, then the highest paid painters and now a figure obscured by history. How did time turn the tables on these two characters? Why is Meissonier forgotten, while the Manet's paintings sell with $20 million price tag? The answer is in this book.

Mr. King's skillful examination of the art's progression from its realism to the appearance of impressionism in the latter part of 1800's makes for a delightful reading. He analyzes the art critics of the time, the leading political figures, the consequences of a war with Prussia, the French life and French economy.

Written with intellectual appeal and with an eye on the events that drove history, The Judgment of Paris is highly recommend to all lovers of historical non-fiction.

-by Simon Cleveland
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on April 24, 2006
This outstanding book skillfully interweaves social, cultural, and art history into a fascinating story that never drags or dries out. Both enlightening and entertaining, it should appeal to anyone interested in either the period, the place, or the artistic movement with which it concerns itself. I am a pretty picky reader, and while I'll suffer through the odd academic tome in order to increase my knowledge this title was nothing less than a constant pleasure. (Can I say I was sorry to see it end?) Broad in scope and offering heapings of helpful context (much of it suggestions for further reading), 'Judgment of Paris' surpassed all of my expectations.
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on December 26, 2007
My husband read this, and passed it along. While I finished the book, I found slightly infuriating: Chapters are short, occasionally the book reads like a guest list at a fancy party and nothing is treated in any kind of depth. To top it al off, there are too few reproductions of the art discussed. In all, a decent view into the rise of Impressionism but, not one with great soul.
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on April 12, 2014
Ross King has given us an erudite tale of the art world as seen through a contest artists reminiscent of the original Judgment of Paris and with the same results. Meissonier, Manet, Corot, Cezanne, and a army of others are presented here in an epoch changing contest where the prize is not a golden apple but fame, money, respect and the right to define how their contemporary world will view art.Ross King is not presenting a simple history of art but a history of the world as it influenced the artists of the times.

The legacy of Napoleon, Classicism, the Franco Prussian War, Hot Air Balloons, the American Civil War (yes that's right), steam engines, prostitution, censorship etc. among others all had their impact. However the most endearing aspect of this book is that it makes the gods of modernism very human. My favorite example is when Manet complains that Monet's pictures are placed is the same exhibition room as his and he is worried that people will not recognize the difference and is suspicious that Monet is attempting to cash in on Manet's notoriety. This is priceless and reminds me of a cartoon I saw once when a couple is going into a museum exhibit and one partner asks the other "Monet or Manet, I forget, which one are we supposed to like?") (New Yorker).

This book is a breath of fresh air for those who have not acquainted themselves with this period history, myself, I found it quite a pleasant introduction. If you are intimidated by all of the minutia, I suggest that you take it a chapter at a time and even bounce from one chapter to another as suits you fancy.
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on May 5, 2006
Ross King is justly famous for his books on Renaissance Art. In this new tome he takes a detailed look at the rise of French Impressionism in the 1860s and 1870s. We see the emergence of

the impressionists led by Monet, Pisarro, Bazille, Morisot, Cezanne and their friends.

The two major artists featured are Eduard Manet whose revolutionary works such as "Olympia" shocked the prudes at the

French Salon and launched the impressionist movement. Manet died

at the early age of 51 as his art was beginning to reign supreme in the auction houses of Europe.

The chief artistic opponent of the impressionists was the now little known Messionier. He was the most famous artist in the world during his lifetime famed for such detailed, historical

works as "Friedland"; "The French Campaign" and nostalgic portraits of cavaliers and bullfighters. Meissionoir (1815-1891)

was a wealthy gentleman who sought detail in all he painted. He

took elaborate pains to get the right look for the clothing of

his subjects and worked hard to make his horses look realistic.

Along with the excellent and popularly written chronicle of the rise of impressionism we get a good study of the reign of

Louis Napoleon. France under his regime became industrialized but he fell due to the Maximillian disaster in Mexico and the

defeat of his armies during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.

Napoleon III died in English exile as Adolph Tiers emerged as the

leader of the French government.

Many of the painters noted in this work suffered during the

Prussian siege and occupation of Paris. German troops did not

leave France until 1873 imposing a heavy indemnity on the government.

King deals with political moves as he devotes several pages to the yearly Salon showing where artistic careers were made and broken.

Ross King's book is geared to a general audience. The reader

learns a good deal about nineteenth century painting, social

and political history.

The book is well illustrated and King can write in a style

easy to comprehend and appreciate. We hope this excellent art

historian continues to produce books of such high quality as this

one. I loved the book! Highly recommended!
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