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Judgment Of Paris

by Ross King
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publishing date: 28/11/2006
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780802715166
  • ISBN: 0802715168


While the Civil War raged in America, another revolution took shape across the Atlantic, in the studios of Paris: The artists who would make Impressionism the most popular art form in history were showing their first paintings amidst scorn and derision from the French artistic establishment. Indeed, no artistic movement has ever been quite so controversial. The drama of its birth, played out on canvas and against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, would at times resemble a battlefield; and as Ross King reveals, it would reorder both history and culture, and resonate around the world.

Ross King is the author of the bestselling books Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, as well as the novels Ex-Libris and Domino. He lives in England, near Oxford.

Winner of Canada's Governor General's Award
An American Library Association Notable Book of the Year
While the Civil war raged in America, another revolution was beginning to take shape across the Atlantic, in the studios of Paris. The artists who would make Impressionism the most popular art form in history were showing their first paintings amid scorn and derision from the French artistic establishment. Indeed, no artistic movement has ever been, at its inception, quite so controversial. The drama of its birth, played out on canvas, would at times resemble a battlefield; and, as Ross King reveals, Impressionism would reorder both history and culture as it resonated around the world.

The Judgment of Paris chronicles the dramatic decade between two famous exhibitions?the scandalous Salon des Refusés in 1863 and the first Impressionist showing in 1874?set against the splendor of Napoleon III's Second Empire, and its dramatic fall after the Franco-Prussian War. A tale of many artists, it revolves around the lives of two, described as "the two poles of art": Ernest Meissonier, the most famous and successful painter of the nineteenth century, hailed for his precision and devotion to history; and Edouard Manet, reviled in his time, who nonetheless heralded the most radical change in the history of art since the Renaissance.
Out of the fascinating story of their parallel lives, illuminated by their legendary supporters and critics?Zola, Delacroix, Courbet, Baudelaire, Whistler, Monet, Hugo, Degas, and many more?Ross King shows that their contest was not just about artistic expression, it was about competing visions of a world drastically changed by technology, politics, and personal freedom. In The Judgment of Paris, King recalls a seminal period when Paris was the artistic center of the world and when a revolutionary art movement had the power to electrify and divide a nation.
"The Judgment of Paris, Ross King's lively account of the rise of the movement, tell a well-known story, but one seldom recounted in such vivid detail, or with such a novelistic sense of plot and character . . . King offers a riveting account of the interaction of artists, art juries, critics and le grand public around the annual Paris Salon . . . In all, King pulls off a tour de force of complex narrative that readers of his previous books about the Sistine Chapel or Brunelleschi's dome will have come to expect.”?Diane Johnson, The New York Times Book Review

"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 . . . Mr. Ross explains the bureaucratic machinery of the Salons in fascinating detail: how juries were selected, and how both artistic and national politics entered into the picture. He also vividly conveys the humiliation for spurned artists, who received no explanation for the decision of the jury, simply an order to pick up their work, stamped with the scarlet letter, and cart it away immediately . . . Feelings tended to run high. It was that sort of decade. The suave Manet, stung by a newspaper critic's remarks, took part in one of the most ridiculous duels in French history. The two opponents, with no fencing ability, managed only to bend their swords. Mr. Ross has a taste for events like this, and for the social swirl and political turmoil of the decade he describes so vividly. 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."?William Grimes, The New York Times

"A marvelously well-structured history and a deeply pleasurable read."?Donna Seaman, Chicago Tribune
"King is a master at linking pivotal moments in art history to epic rivalries. In his third supremely engaging and illuminating inquiry, King summons forth mid-nineteenth-century Paris and vividly portrays two diametrically opposed artists. Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, 'the world's wealthiest and most celebrated painter,' spends years laboring over his meticulously detailed historical paintings, eliminating every trace of the brush and striving for scientific precision. Newcomer Edouard Manet dispenses with the historical claptrap and the highly polished finish that are Meissonier's stock in trade, and boldly creates sharp contrasts and 'vigorous brushstrokes' to depict ordinary people and brazenly matter-of-fact female nudes. Meissonier is a crowd-pleaser, Manet nearly instigates riots. King follows the fortunes of this pair of celebrity artists over the course of a decade as Meissonier becomes a 'giant to be slain' and Manet is anointed king of the impressionists. Writing with zest and a remarkable command of diverse and fascinating facts, and offering keen insights into the matrix of art, politics, social mores, and technology, King charts the coalescence of a movement that changed not only painting for all time but also our way of seeing the world. And perhaps most laudably, he resurrects a discredited and forgotten figure, the marvelous monomaniac Meissonier, a man King has bemused affection and respect for, and an artist readers will be delighted to learn about."?Donna Seaman, Booklist

"NBCC finalist King presents an engrossing account of the years from 1863?when paintings denied entry into the French Academy's yearly Salon were shown at the Salon des Refusés?to 1874, the date of the first Impressionist exhibition. To dramatize the conflict between academicians and innovators during these years, he follows the careers of two formidable, and very different, artists: Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, a conservative painter celebrated for detailed historical subjects, and Edouard Manet, whose painting Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe caused an uproar at the Salon des Refusés. Many other artists of the day, among them Courbet, Degas, Morisot, Monet and Cézanne, are included in King's compelling narrative, and the story is further enhanced by the author's 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. An epilogue underscores the irony of the tale: after his death, Meissonier quickly fell from favor, while Manet, whose paintings were once judged scandalous, was recognized as a great artist who set the stage for Impressionism and the future of painting."?Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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  • Fascinating reappraisal of everything from this period.
    From Amazon

    As a trained painter, art historian and teacher I found this book fascinating on several fronts. As a lover of the Napoleonic epoch, I have been familiar with Meissonier since my early teens, but knew nothing about him. As a painter, I am obviously familiar with Manet as the big bang of Modernism in the mid-nineteenth century. However, I have never read such an in-depth study of the various Salons. I had been led to believe (is it just me?) that Manet, and later Monet, Degas et al...had been rejected by the Salon so many times that they flew in the face of ridicule and set up their own 'Salon des Refuses'. I was amazed (and somewhat ashamed of myself to have not investigated this further) when I read in Mr King's book of how The Salon des Refuses had actually been set up at the insistance of Napoleon III! I was similarly surprised at how many of the 'younger' Impressionists were the co-exhibitors of Manet - Monet indeed gaining a fair amount of praise before Manet. The trite history we're usually given - Manet as the father of the movement followed by the 'younger' accolytes is largely nonsense. Also amazed that Cezanne, the arch 'Post Impressionist' was around - and well known in the 1860s. None of these people starved for their art and all did, to an extent court favour with The Salon, which, incidentally changed its judging procedure fairly early on so as to at least accomodate the new painting that was happening. Meissonier is praised by King for his anatomical studies of horses in motion. I had always assumed these were done with the benefit of stop motion photography but apparently Meissonier studied the animals in motion, himself often astride a horse or - from a privately built railway carriage. King compares this painstaking study to the scientific approach of Leonardo and Michelangelo. And why not? As an artist I can only respect a man who spent 10 years scraping off, restarting and wrestling with 'Friedland' to get it right. And, his painting is not 'tight', not 'dead'. Art history - as it's been handed down to us through the Modernist purges of the twentieth century is often a convenient nonsense. Monet was being a Post Impressionist after all, at the same time as Picasso was being a cubist at the same time Schiele was being an Expressionist. Idea for a book Mr King? The author does a fine job of remaining neutral. My belief that Manet was a genius remains unshaken, though my guilty pleasures of admiring the historical exactitude of Meissonier have been completely turned around. About time the latter's staue was returned to The Louvre.

  • Not a page turner like "Dome," but a good job, Mr. King.
    From Amazon

    I picked up King's book in anticipation of the pending show this summer in San Francisco of Impressionist art from Paris's Musee d'Orsay. Those paintings are vastly familiar to most museum going Americans, and I wanted to look at them from a slightly different perspective, if I could. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed King's book Brunelleschi's Dome, I suspected I would be both amused and interesting informed by what King had to say. I was not disappointed. I very much enjoyed this book, even though it lacked the suspense of the former (who's going to get that darned dome done?). "The Judgment of Paris" (a wonderful title, by the way, with its reference to the opening of the Trojan War) is neither a complete history of the coming of Impressionism nor a book about changing artistic techniques--there are lots of those around. Rather King has chosen to focus on the culture wars and the politics of taste, with the two poles of rising and falling taste, as others have pointed out, being defined as, on the one hand, the meticulous historic painting of the hugely popular Ernest Meissonier (whose art is today generally unknown and ignored) and, on that other, that upstart Edouard Manet whose paintings outraged both the Parisian public and the Powers that Be. It's a great story, well told here, and one that rings with ironies oh so delicately extracted by Ross King, ironies, I might add, that echo in our own contemporary wars of taste, be it taste in art or food, style of fiction or style of political campaign. Good job, Mr. King.

  • Twin Peaks
    From Amazon

    Firstly, I'm not an historian of this or any period of art, but an enthusiastic reader of the times we still, I believe, can reach back into with relative ease. Second, my journey down that path began decades ago with Arnold Hauser's Social History volumes, and has been fleshed out with T J Clark and Michael Fried. I thought that was enough (though I'm tempted through a fellow reviewer of this book to pursue the John Milner thread). Ross King has brought a massive amount of scholarship to the decade under discussion and done so with vivid touches and asides that enlarge the writings of the aforementioned. His is an easy conversational writing style inspite of the learning. Yes, Manet has enjoyed post-humous accolades neither he nor Messonier would have dreamed of. Yes, he ushered in the age of spontaneity and detatched irony(see Richard Wollheim's coverage of Manet in Painting As An Art). Messonier looks pre-industrial beside him. But that's not to denigrate a different outlook. It's a mean matter of taste. The import of the raging civil conflicts in Mexico, the ripple effects of the U.S Civil War, and the disturbances wrought by Prussia's invasion and the subsequent Paris Commune give the appropriate net to contexturalise the various artist's responses; the nerve endings of the new Parisian petite bourgousie. The epilogue is brief, but makes the cogent reminder of how we laud the past, instancing the massive ground swell that accompanies any showing of Impressionist 'masters'. Note how little of their art expresses the seamier side or the turmoil of what was occuring under Impressionist noses. It's always a challenge to make interesting, resonant art with political overtones. Manet's attempts at arousing attention about wars came nowhere near the incomparable Goya. Highly recommended. More on Art?> see>[...]

  • Weak
    From Amazon

    To be honest, this book is not as good as it should be. Its a good snapshot of the early years of Manet, the prime years of Meissonier and some engaging gossip about the Paris Salons of the 1870s. But at the end of it I was really none the wiser as to how and why Impressionism came to be - plein air painting does not automatically lead to Impressionism. And I am even less clear on why Meissonier went from the most famous artist of his day to a footnote in the annals of Art History. Yes, fashions change but there must be more to it than that. So overall this is a an interesting and amusing narrative but could have done with more contextual discussion. I was left unsatisfied

  • A perfect introduction
    From Amazon

    This is a perfect book for those of us who want to know more about the recent history of Western Art and specifically the impressionists. Art historians will all undoubtedly find fault; this is not a university text book, it's a wonderfully written overview of the struggles and eventual rise of the impressionist art movement in France. No it doesn't cover every impressionist who lived but you'll recognize the ones it does mention. It is written so well that I suspect it'll encourage many readers to "dig deeper" into the subject matter.

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