Claude Monet's water lily paintings are among the most iconic and beloved works of art of the past century. Yet these entrancing images were created at a time of terrible private turmoil and sadness for the artist. The dramatic history behind these paintings is little known; Ross King's Mad Enchantment tells the full story for the first time and, in the process, presents a compelling and original portrait of one of our most popular and cherished artists.
By the outbreak of war in 1914, Monet, then in his mid-seventies, was one of the world's most famous and successful painters, with a large house in the country, a fleet of automobiles and a colossal reputation. However, he had virtually given up painting following the death of his wife Alice in 1911 and the onset of blindness a year later. Nonetheless, it was during this period of sorrow, ill health and creative uncertainty that - as the guns roared on the Western Front - he began the most demanding and innovative paintings he had ever attempted.
Encouraged by close friends such as Georges Clemenceau, France's dauntless prime minister, Monet would work on these magnificent paintings throughout the war years and then for the rest of his life. So obsessed with his monumental task that the village barber was summoned to clip his hair as he worked beside his pond, he covered hundreds of yards of canvas with shimmering layers of pigment. As his ambitions expanded with his paintings, he began planning what he intended to be his legacy to the world: the 'Musee Claude Monet' in the Orangerie in Paris.
Drawing on letters and memoirs and focusing on this remarkable period in the artist's life, Mad Enchantment gives an intimate portrayal of Claude Monet in all his tumultuous complexity, and firmly places his water lily paintings among the greatest achievements in the history of art.
In 1863, the French painter Ernest Meissonier was one of the most famous artists in the world and the darling of the 'Salon' - that all important public art exhibition held biannually in Paris. Manet, on the other hand, was struggling in obscurity. Beginning with the year that Manet exhibited his ground-breaking Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe and ending in 1874 with the first 'Impressionist' exhibition, Ross King plunges into Parisian life during a ten-year period full of social and political ferment with his usual narrative brillliance. These were the years in which Napoleon III's autocratic and pleasure-seeking Second Empire fell from its heights into the ignominy of the Franco-Prussian war and the ensuing Paris Commune of 1871. But it was also a period in which a group of artists, with Manet in the vanguard began to challenge the establishment by turning to the landscapes and ordinary people they saw around them. The struggle between Meissonier and Manet to get their paintings exhibited in pride of place at the Salon was not just about art, it was about how to see the world.
This title tells the story of the four years Michelangelo spent painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, battling against ill health, financial difficulties, domestic problems and inadequate knowledge of the art of fresco.