“King consummately meshes biography with art history … 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)
Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies
Claude Monet is perhaps the world’s most beloved artist. Among all his creations, the paintings of the water lilies in his garden at Giverny are the most famous. Seeing them in museums around the world, viewers are transported by the power of Monet’s brush into a peaceful world of harmonious nature. Monet himself intended them to provide “an asylum of peaceful meditation.” Yet these beautiful canvases belie the intense frustration Monet experienced at the difficulties of capturing the fugitive effects of light, shade, depth and color. Their calmness and beauty also conceal the terrible personal torments—the loss of loved ones, the horrors of World War I, the infirmities of age—that he suffered in the last dozen years of his life.
Mad Enchantment tells the full story behind the creation of the Water Lilies. The history of these remarkable canvases begins early in 1914, when French newspapers began reporting that Monet, by then 73 and one of the world’s wealthiest, most celebrated painters, had retired his brushes. He had lost his beloved wife, Alice, and his eldest son, Jean. His famously acute vision—what Paul Cezanne called “the most prodigious eye in the history of painting”—was threatened by cataracts. And yet, despite ill health, self-doubt, and advancing age, Monet began painting again, this time on a more ambitious scale than ever before.
Linking great artistic achievement to the personal and historical dramas unfolding around it, Mad Enchantment presents the most intimate and revealing portrait of an iconic figure in world culture—from his lavish lifestyle and tempestuous personality to his close friendship with the fiery war leader Georges Clemenceau, who regarded the Water Lilies as one of the highest expressions of the human spirit.
- Winner of the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize
- Shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography and the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction
- Selected by Newsday as one of the 10 Best Books of 2016.
Library Journal (Starred Review): ’Readers will rejoice at this critical and social “biography” of Monet’s stunningly ambitious final signature painting cycle, Water Lilies, a deeply immersive companion to the author’s memorable The Judgement of Paris … 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.’
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review): ’King effectively puts readers at the painter’s side as he rails against the impossible task he set for himself, suffering the “tortures” of painting and slashing canvases. As in his superb The Judgment of Paris (2006), about the rise of Impressionism, the author sets this fascinating portrayal of the larger-than-life artist—known equally for his “obstreperous temperament” and warm hospitality, for his love of gardening, family life, fast cars, and gourmet food—against a backdrop of the raging war, politics, history, and changing tastes in art. 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.’
New York Times Book Review: ‘[A]n 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.’
Newsday: ‘Sensitive, deeply researched and altogether delightful.’
New York Journal of Books: ‘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.’
History Today: ‘Engrossing history … This scholarly story of Monet’s greatest project is told with tremendous humour and is filled with fascinating insights.’
The Guardian: ‘A fine, fluent book [and] a careful unpicking of cherished art-historical narratives.’
The Sunday Times: ‘Ross King has a track record when it comes to turning such art stories into gripping narratives … His method is expansive, including personal, political, social and cultural context.’
Dallas Morning News: ‘King’s marvelous storytelling draws us back to these sublime, timeless paintings.’
Christian Science Monitor: ‘A compelling portrait of Monet … with page-turning intensity.’
Associated Press: ‘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.’
The Spectator: ‘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.’
Washington Post: ‘A well-researched and in-depth account … King is insightful and articulate … [T]he book sparkles.’
Boston Globe: ‘Absorbing … King writes with great authority about painting.’
San Antonio Express News: ‘Captures both the art and the artist … well researched and deeply considered.’
The Literary Review: ‘King brings us the making of Monet’s water lilies … It is the story of how Clemenceau’s vision of a morale-raising display of national art for the new century and a homage to how the genius of Monet’s extraordinary eye came finally to be realised. Along the way, because King has a skill for turning over unlikely narrative stones, the book touches on a lot of other matters too.’
© Ross King.