Claude Monet's water lily paintings are a legend renowned the world over, but the dramatic story of the artist behind the art remains mostly unknown. Telling that story is the acclaimed historian, Ross King, as he paints the most nuanced, riveting and humane portrait yet of Claude Monet, arguably the most famous artist of the 20th century.
As World War I exploded in the distance of Giverny, Monet was facing his own personal crucible. At 71, he was grieving the death of his wife, Alice, in 1911. A year later he began going blind. Then, his eldest son, Jean, fell ill and died of syphilis, and his other son was sent to the front to fight for France. Within months, a violent storm destroyed much of the garden that had been his inspiration for some 20 years. At the same time, his reputation was under attack as a new generation of artists, led by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, were dazzling the art world and expressing disgust with Impressionism. Against all this, fighting his own self-doubt, depression and age, Monet found the wherewithal to construct a massive new studio, 70 feet long and 50 feet high, to accommodate the gigantic canvases that would, he hoped, revive him.
Using letters, memoirs and other sources not employed by other biographers, and focusing on this remarkable period in the artist's life, Ross King reveals a more complex, more human, more intimate Claude Monet than has ever been portrayed, and firmly places his water lily project among the greatest achievements in the history of art.
ROSS KING is the highly praised author of, among other books, Brunelleschi's Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, as well as The Judgment of Paris and Leonardo and the Last Supper, both of which won the Governor General's Award for Non-fiction. He lives just outside Oxford, in England.
Winner of the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction
Finalist for the 2016 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction
Longlisted for the 2017 BC National Award for Canadian Nonfiction
An Observer (UK) Best Art Book
A Boston Globe Best Book
A National Post Best Book
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book
A CBC Best Book
"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." —The New York Times Book Review
"A well-researched and in-depth account. . . . 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." —The Washington Post
"[A] fine, fluent book . . . a careful unpicking of cherished art historical narratives." —The Guardian (UK)
"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." —Associated Press
"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 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." —The Wall Street Journal
"King 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." —Booklist, starred review
"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. . . . This work is essential." —Library Journal, starred review
"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.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Canadian art historian and two-time Governor General's Literary Award winner Ross King turns his finely honed gaze to . . . Monet's greatest accomplishment . . . [providing] much historical context and just enough art history to render Monet's story accessible to those with little familiarity with the master beyond recognizing some of his better-known paintings." —Quill & Quire
"This book, subtitled Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies, deserves a place of pride beside Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919 for its engrossing depiction of the Great War era. . . . With impressive deft, King weaves into his narrative the story of the rise, fall, then rise again of Impressionism's reputation, as well as the fate of the Orangerie, the final resting place of Monet's Grande Décoration in Paris." —Maclean's
"The fascination of this lively and entertaining book lies as much in its portrait of first-world-war France as it does in its depiction of Giverny. [King] does full justice to the artist's evolution from the pure light of his earlier poplars and wheat-stacks to the brooding, unsettling Monet who became a forerunner of Abstract Expressionism; but it is in the period detail and character portraits that Mad Enchantment really comes to life." —The Spectator (UK)
"In this enlightening look at Monet's most famous works, King not only illuminates their beauty but examines the harsh realities during which they were created, from the artist's excruciating eye troubles to the devastation of war." —The Boston Globe
"An exhaustive researcher and a pleasing writer, [King] has produced a perceptive chronicle of war and friendship, shifting tastes and lasting art." —Miami Herald
"Readers interested in the bustling Paris art world of the early 20th century will savour King's glance-back not only at a lost time, but at an extraordinary friendship. But the book, a well-written and meticulously researched account, a labour of love which never seems tedious, should also be of interest to the general reader." —The London Free Press
"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
"Engrossing history. This scholarly story of Monet's greatest project is told with tremendous humour and is filled with fascinating insights." —History Today