Once again, the author of Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling sets an art revolution in high relief by presenting a dramatic narrative of rival esthetics at war. In The Judgment of Paris, King presents the mid-19th century triumph of French Impressionism through the stories of two celebrity artists, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815-91) and Edouard Manet (1832-83). Though relatively unknown now, Meissonier was the most acclaimed artist of his day. His painfully meticulous historical paintings were designed as elaborately polished grand illusions. The much younger Manet eschewed such drab artifice in favor of vigorous, undisguised techniques and brazenly naked female subjects. King's micro-history places readers in the midst of an artistic movement that changed our way of seeing.
The rise of Manet and the fall of Meissonier provide the narrative spine for The Judgment of Paris, Ross King's spirited account of the decade-long battle between France's officially sanctioned history painters and the wild tribe of upstarts contemptuously dismissed as "impressionists." It is, in its broad outlines, a familiar story, but Mr. King, the author of "Brunelleschi's Dome," tells it with tremendous energy and skill. It is hard to imagine a more inviting account of the artistic civil war that raged around the Paris Salons of the 1860's and 70's, or of the outsize personalities who transformed the way the world looked at painting.
The New York Times
Listening to Layton is like sitting at a Left Bank cafe with a British friend who knows both the history and gossip of the 1860s' Paris art scene and can put it all in political context. Layton has a friendly, low-pitched voice, good tempo and pace. He's never overly dramatic, but does lift an amusing vocal eyebrow quoting some of the more pompous figures of the period. King describes the mid-century revolution in French art by focusing on the lives and canvases of the extremes of the period. Ernest Meissonier is wildly successful and wealthy, patiently mirroring every face and frock and hoofbeat in precise historical detail, while Edouard Manet is rejected and scorned by the public, peers, critics and buyers for the manner in which he illuminated his impressions of scenes and characters. As Manet gradually moves from brown hues to vibrant colors and from classical to modern settings, King shows his influence on those younger contemporaries-Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas et al.-who came to be known as the Impressionists. Artists, art historians and connoisseurs will be transfixed by this description of the seismic shift in art from the mirror to the lamp. The rest of us may slide over the names of unfamiliar artists, critics, mistresses, models and political figures to focus on the heart of this fascinating story. Simultaneous release with the Walker & Co. hardcover (Reviews, Dec. 19). (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
King takes the listener on an enthralling tour of a remarkable decade in the history of art. Covering the years 1863-74, the book describes Parisian culture at the time the Impressionists were beginning to show their work. The painting style in prominence at the time was that dictated by the French Academy usually works that depicted historical, mythological, or moral themes, and they were what was displayed in the annual "Salon." However, in 1863 so many painters were refused entry into the Salon that a "Salon de Refuses" was established. Using letters and reviews from the time, King is able to give us an exciting look at a tumultuous period in the history of art. As he did in his previous book, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, the author combines stories of prominent artists with the history of the time, showing the events that helped forge these changes in the art world. Tristan Layton's narration is superb; highly recommended for all libraries. Theresa Connors, Arkansas Tech Univ., Russellville Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A fluid, engaging account of how the conflicting careers of two French painters-the popular establishment favorite Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier and the oft-reviled newcomer Edouard Manet-reveal the slow emergence of Impressionism and its new view of painting and the world. King, a novelist (Domino, 2002, etc.) and art historian (Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, 2003, etc.), has crafted an exciting chronicle about political and cultural change. By shifting the light of his research from Meissonier (whose career is now at its nadir) to Manet (whose paintings now go for millions of dollars) and back again, the author illuminates an entire epoch. Many great characters in cultural history appear-Baudelaire, Zola, Henry James-not to mention the painters whose names are now Olympian. Delacroix, Monet, Cezanne, Rossetti, Renoir-they all strut a bit on King's stage, as do political figures, most notably Napoleon III. The author does not neglect the military history of the period. There is a chapter-long narrative about the brutal Franco-Prussian War, during which Meissonier and Manet met while serving with the National Guard. (The war's bloody aftermath earns another chapter.) During the protracted Siege of Paris both artists found time to sketch and eat increasingly unappetizing forms of protein. But King's focus is on the art world-especially on the annual Salons, whose politics and popular reactions King thoroughly explores. Of great interest is the savage reception (including laughter and disgust and disdain-even from friends) that Manet endured year after year at the Salons. (He fought a feckless duel with one critic.) A weaker man might have considered another career. King illustratesthat the clash of ideas is even more exciting than the clang of swords.
“An accessible book of both history and art in a tumultuous time.”
“The Judgment of Paris, Ross King’s lively account of the rise of the movement, tells a well-known story, but one seldom recounted in such vivid detail or with such a novelistic sense of plot and character …. King doesn’t miss the character flaws of any of his large cast, and the effect is a meticulously detailed panorama not unlike one of Meissonier’s grandest battlefield scenes …. In all, King pulls off a tour de force of complex narrative that readers of his previous books will have come to expect.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Like King's previous books, Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, The Judgment of Paris is as much a portrait of a place and time as a story about art. King packs the book with details about social customs, new inventions and politics. He relates the exploits of the emperor Louis-Napoleon, the folly of the Franco-Prussian War, the humiliating siege of Paris, and the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune … he weaves his material together skilfully, and tells his story with wit and enthusiasm.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
"Engrossing. … [A] 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."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[Made] me nostalgic for a time I have never actually experienced: a time when art and culture mattered enough to make people march in the streets.”
“Fashion, scientific advances and revolutionary politics all find their way into a narrative that in its way achieves the kind of history painting that Meissonier could only dream of.”
—The New York Times