Sunday, September 4, 2016

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King

As a girl I scoured the public library for art books. My love of the Impressionists, especially Monet, came early. I requested Ross King's new book on Claude Monet as soon as I saw it on NetGalley. 

Although I was very familiar with Monet's paintings, especially those in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I knew very little about his life.

King focuses on Monet's later years as he struggled to realize his Grande Decoration during WWI while dealing with failing eyesight. The trials of the artistic life, how genius copes with human limitations, and the horrendous impact of WWI on France is vividly portrayed.



Nympheas, Japanese Bridge,
1918-1926, Claude Monet, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Although it took me a few chapters to get into the book I became swept up in Monet's story. I recall complaining, "I can't stop now, Monet's undergoing eye surgery!" 
Claude Monet Water Garden in Giverny, photo Ariane Cauderlier
The book begins in April, 1914 with Monet's dear friend Prime Minister Clemenceau coming to Giverny, the rustic hamlet where Monet built an 'earthly paradise'--the gardens now famously preserved in his paintings.  
L'Agapanthe, Monet 1920-22
The concept of Monet's Grande Decoration was born after the death of his son Jean in 1914. His water lily pond would be recreated through a series of massive paintings to be displayed in an oval room. He spent years obsessed with capturing ephemeral beauty. Monet promised Clemenceau he would give the water lily paintings to France. 

"Many people think I paint easily, but it is not an easy things to be an artist. I often suffer tortures when I paint. it is a great joy and a great suffering." Claude Monet

Cataracts and blindness plagued Monet and compromised his belief in himself. He knew what he wanted to achieve but felt his limitations. 

Monet was a passionate man who would rave at life's limitations. He was his own worse critic, destroying canvases that he considered failures. He stalled handing over the paintings. As long as he had his great work he had a reason to live. The delay strained his friendship with Clemenceau. 

At his death in 1926 the paintings were put on display in the Orangerie at Tuileries. Go on a virtual visit to here.

Monet the man and the artist was brought to life in King's book and I have a better appreciation of the impact of WWI on France.  

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Mad Enchantment
Ross King
Bloomsbury
Publication Date: Sept 6, 2016
$30 hard cover
ISBN:9781632860125