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Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies Paperback – September 12, 2017
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"Ross King’s Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies is an engaging and authoritative portrait of the aged artist and his travails . . . the Monet who emerges from King’s pages is a sympathetic and vivid character . . . A moving portrait of the artist as an old man." - Deborah Solomon, The New York Times Book Review
"King, author of books on Michelangelo, Leonardo and Machiavelli, offers a well-researched and in-depth account, based on Monet's letters and the reminiscences and writings of his many friends and admirers. . . . Readers will come away with an enhanced understanding of Monet's art, about which King is insightful and articulate. And when King animates the colorful politics of Monet's France, the book sparkles." - Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post
"King, an exhaustive researcher and a pleasing writer, has produced a perceptive chronicle of war and friendship, shifting tastes and lasting art -- and of the painted reflections of a pond that became a mirror." - Christopher Sullivan, The Associated Press
"[A] sensitive, deeply researched and altogether delightful biography." - Newsday
"Biographer Ross King once again puts a human face on the historical narrative of an artistic triumph . . . . [Monet] described himself as 'at war with nature and time,' and 'Mad Enchantment' captures that war with page-turning intensity." - Christian Science Monitor
"If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, than anyone who is not drawn into Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King is truly visually impaired . . . Mad Enchantment is a book to be read and enjoyed; it is a learning experience for those both learned and inexperienced in the world of art. Ross King does an exemplary job of bringing Claude Monet back to life. This one belongs on the bookshelf within easy reach." - New York Journal of Books
"Mr. King's portrait of Monet--as driven, largely generous, sometimes petulant, never quite cruel--is finely balanced. . . Mr. King’s first-rate 'The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism' (2006) centered on youth and aesthetic revolt. 'Mad Enchantment,' by contrast, celebrates the twilit culmination of the Impressionist movement. Taken together, they are satisfying and informative bookends." - Wall Street Journal
"A vivid account of Claude Monet (1840-1926) facing his greatest artistic challenge in the last years of his life. . . . King elegantly reveals the soul of a great artist, the last impressionist standing at the end of one of history's most remarkable art movements." - starred review, Kirkus
"King is ever the brilliant docent murmuring the right, telling details and critical backstories in our ear as we move through space and time. He ultimately brings the man and his work into perfect focus while increasing his audience's interest in both all the more. VERDICT This work is essential." - starred review, Library Journal
"Best-selling King (Leonardo and the Last Supper, 2012) consummately meshes biography with art history as he turns the creation of one resounding masterpiece into a portal onto the artist's life. . . . Never before has the full drama and significance of Monet’s magnificent Water Lilies been conveyed with such knowledge and perception, empathy and wonder." - starred review, Editors' Choice, Booklist
"King's marvelous storytelling draws us back to these sublime, timeless paintings, so remote from -- and yet, paradoxically, so necessary a part of -- our own unquiet times." - Dallas Morning News
"Ross King has a knack for explaining complicated processes in a manner that is not only lucid but downright intriguing . . . Fascinating." - Los Angeles Times on BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME
"An altogether enchanting tale." - Dava Sobel, author of LONGITUDE and GALILEO'S DAUGHTER, on BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME
"[A] dramatic, vivid, and brainy mix of biography and art history." - starred review, Booklist on LEONARDO AND THE LAST SUPPER
"A fascinating and in-depth story of one of the world's most famous works of art that will appeal to general readers as well as academics. Highly recommended." - starred review, Library Journal on LEONARDO AND THE LAST SUPPER
"Riveting . . . Such material could have been tedious in less nimble literary hands. But so thorough is King's grasp of the Second Empire's cultural politics, so ironic his wit and choice of detail, that his text remains a page-turner throughout." - Los Angeles Times on THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS
"Scrupulously researched, written with wit and panache, Ross King's Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling is a sublime peek into a remarkable era." - Miami Herald on MICHELANGELO AND THE POPE'S CEILING
About the Author
Ross King is the author of Brunelleschi's Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, The Judgment of Paris, Leonardo and The Last Supper, and others. His work has been nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, the Charles Taylor Prize, and the National Award for Arts Writing. He has lectured at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian, the Aspen Institute, and the Frick Collection, and in Florence, Milan, Paris, and Giverny. He lives near Oxford with his wife, Melanie.
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If, however, you're interested in a detailed, comprehensive and incisive account of Monet the man and the circumstances that led him to create his water lily paintings, or Grande Decoration, as he envisioned them, you'll find that in spades. And In my book, it's the only way they have any real meaning, and why I found the book so interesting.
Author Ross King is a skilled, fluent writer, who brings the people and their era to life. He's done so much research that w=much of the book reads almost like fiction, with strongly defined characters and the kinds of details that grab your attention. (Monet's fondness for food, for instance, and the famous lunches he'd serve his guests.) The horrors of World War I, which was the backdrop behind many of Monet's water lily paintings (they helped serve as a distraction for him) are vividly depicted. And Monet's beloved home in Giverny is as much a character as his close friend, the statesman and journalist Georges Clemenceau and his family members, especially his stepdaughter, daughter-in-law and helpmate, Blanche. While Monet's Impressionist colleagues are dying (or have died), he remains robust for his age, even while the infirmities of old age are taking their toll, especially cataracts that make it harder and harder for him to see the colors and landscapes that led to his fame and fortune.
In the end, this is a detailed snapshot of a period in the life of one of the world's greatest and most beloved artists, made possible through King's exhaustive research and skillful writing.
If I have one gripe, it's that at times it seems as if the book is a bit too long, which is why I've deducted one star. But rest assured, if you're interested in late 19th/early 20th century art and the events and people who produced it, this is an exceptionally good read.
My strong likes include the accurate portrayal of Monet’s retreat to Giverny, and how he generated hundreds of paintings with his intermingled love of gardening on a grand scale. Compared to a sterile or idealized portrayal of Monet, I love the portrayal of Monet’s humanistic features: the good and the bad. We witness an artist, recognizing that he is past his prime, and close to death, physically and mentally struggling to complete one last epic work: the Grand Decoration. These are the black times in the closing years of any great artist.
The book could well be considered the final chapter of Mr. King’s wonderful book “The Judgement of Paris”. Without reading that book first, “Mad Enchantment” could seem very incomplete. We learn for instance, that there are still strong critics of the whole Impressionist movement in the 1920’s, just as there were at the start of the Impressionist movement. Also since this book focuses on the struggles to complete the Grand Decoration with the water lilies, it skims over the dozens, if not hundreds, of other paintings produced by Monet during this time. If the story line seems disjointed it’s because Monet's efforts were mercurial during this period, ranging from frenetic painting, to months of inactivity, to months of physical struggling with his cataracts.
Mr King is a great story teller. His great skill is placing the subject of his writings into appropriate historical context. He did the same with “Brunelleschi’s Dome”. I came away with a real sense of Monet’s last years, a greater impression of his will to live and create, and a real sadness for his personal struggles at the end of his life. He becomes “knowable” like a real acquaintance....and perhaps that is the greatest feat of Mr. King’s work.
For readers who want a complete overview of the life of Monet and his work, there are other bibliographies. Carla Rachman’s 1997 effort for the Phaidon series of artists, is a good example. In fact there are many similarities of how Rachman and King record the last years of Monet’s life.
King's discussion in the Epilogue, of the artistic details in the "Water Lilies".