The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism

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The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism

by Ross King

Doubleday Canada | October 24, 2006 | Trade Paperback

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The fascinating new book by the author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling: a saga of artistic rivalry and cultural upheaval in the decade leading to the birth of Impressionism.

If there were two men who were absolutely central to artistic life in France in the second half of the nineteenth century, they were Edouard Manet and Ernest Meissonier. While the former has been labelled the “Father of Impressionism” and is today a household name, the latter has sunk into obscurity. It is difficult now to believe that in 1864, when this story begins, it was Meissonier who was considered the greatest French artist alive and who received astronomical sums for his work, while Manet was derided for his messy paintings of ordinary people and had great difficulty getting any of his work accepted at the all-important annual Paris Salon.

Manet and Meissonier were the Mozart and Salieri of their day, one a dangerous challenge to the establishment, the other beloved by rulers and the public alike for his painstakingly meticulous oil paintings of historical subjects. Out of the fascinating story of their parallel careers, Ross King creates a lens through which to view the political tensions that dogged Louis-Napoleon during the Second Empire, his ignominious downfall, and the bloody Paris Commune of 1871. At the same time, King paints a wonderfully detailed and vivid portrait of life in an era of radical social change: on the streets of Paris, at the new seaside resorts of Boulogne and Trouville, and at the race courses and picnic spots where the new bourgeoisie relaxed. When Manet painted Dejeuner sur l’herbe or Olympia, he shocked not only with his casual brushstrokes (described by some as applied by a ‘floor mop’) but with his subject matter: top-hatted white-collar workers (and their mistresses) were not considered suitable subjects for ‘Art’. Ross King shows how, benign as they might seem today, these paintings changed the course of history. The struggle between Meissonier and Manet to see their paintings achieve pride of place at the Salon was not just about artistic competitiveness, it was about how to see the world.

Full of fantastic tidbits of information (such as the use of carrier pigeons and hot-air balloons during the siege of Paris), and a colourful cast of characters that includes Baudelaire, Courbet, and Zola, with walk-on parts for Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Cezanne, The Judgment of Paris casts new light on the birth of Impressionism and takes us to the heart of a time in which the modern French identity was being forged.


From the Hardcover edition.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 464 pages, 9.1 × 6.1 × 1.2 in

Published: October 24, 2006

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385661037

ISBN - 13: 9780385661034

Found in: Biography and Memoir

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– More About This Product –

The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism

by Ross King

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 464 pages, 9.1 × 6.1 × 1.2 in

Published: October 24, 2006

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385661037

ISBN - 13: 9780385661034

Read from the Book

Chapter One Chez Meissonier One gloomy January day in 1863, ­Jean-­Louis-­Ernest Meissonier, the world’s wealthiest and most celebrated paint­er, dressed himself in the costume of Napoleon Bonaparte and, despite the snowfall, climbed onto the rooftop balcony of his mansion in Poissy. A town with a population of a little more than 3,000, Poissy lay eleven miles northwest of Paris, on the south bank of an oxbow in the River Seine and on the railway line running from the Gare ­Saint-­Lazare to the Normandy coast. It boasted a ­twelfth-­century church, an equally ancient bridge, and a weekly cattle market that supplied the butcher shops of Paris and, every Tuesday, left the medieval streets steaming with manure. There was little ­else in Poissy except for the ancient priory of ­Saint-­Louis, a walled convent that had once been home to an order of Dominican nuns. The nuns had been evicted during the French Revolution and the convent’s buildings either demolished or sold to private buyers. But inside the enclosure remained an enormous, spired church almost a hundred yards in length and, close by, a grandiose ­house with clusters of balconies, dormer windows and ­pink-­bricked chimneys: a building sometimes known as the Grande Maison. Ernest Meissonier had occupied the Grande Maison for most of the previous two de­cades. In his ­forty-­eighth year he was short, arrogant and densely beard
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From the Publisher

The fascinating new book by the author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling: a saga of artistic rivalry and cultural upheaval in the decade leading to the birth of Impressionism.

If there were two men who were absolutely central to artistic life in France in the second half of the nineteenth century, they were Edouard Manet and Ernest Meissonier. While the former has been labelled the “Father of Impressionism” and is today a household name, the latter has sunk into obscurity. It is difficult now to believe that in 1864, when this story begins, it was Meissonier who was considered the greatest French artist alive and who received astronomical sums for his work, while Manet was derided for his messy paintings of ordinary people and had great difficulty getting any of his work accepted at the all-important annual Paris Salon.

Manet and Meissonier were the Mozart and Salieri of their day, one a dangerous challenge to the establishment, the other beloved by rulers and the public alike for his painstakingly meticulous oil paintings of historical subjects. Out of the fascinating story of their parallel careers, Ross King creates a lens through which to view the political tensions that dogged Louis-Napoleon during the Second Empire, his ignominious downfall, and the bloody Paris Commune of 1871. At the same time, King paints a wonderfully detailed and vivid portrait of life in an era of radical social change: on the streets of Paris, at the new seaside resorts of Boulogne and Trouville, and at the race courses and picnic spots where the new bourgeoisie relaxed. When Manet painted Dejeuner sur l’herbe or Olympia, he shocked not only with his casual brushstrokes (described by some as applied by a ‘floor mop’) but with his subject matter: top-hatted white-collar workers (and their mistresses) were not considered suitable subjects for ‘Art’. Ross King shows how, benign as they might seem today, these paintings changed the course of history. The struggle between Meissonier and Manet to see their paintings achieve pride of place at the Salon was not just about artistic competitiveness, it was about how to see the world.

Full of fantastic tidbits of information (such as the use of carrier pigeons and hot-air balloons during the siege of Paris), and a colourful cast of characters that includes Baudelaire, Courbet, and Zola, with walk-on parts for Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Cezanne, The Judgment of Paris casts new light on the birth of Impressionism and takes us to the heart of a time in which the modern French identity was being forged.


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Ross King is the author of Brunelleschi’s Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, and the novels Ex-Libris and Domino. Born and raised in Canada, he now lives near Oxford, England.


From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“An accessible book of both history and art in a tumultuous time.” — Edmonton Journal “Enthralling.” — Maclean ’s “ The Judgment of Paris , Ross King’s lively account of the rise of the movement, tells a well-known story, but one seldom recounted in such vivid detail or with such a novelistic sense of plot and character …. King doesn’t miss the character flaws of any of his large cast, and the effect is a meticulously detailed panorama not unlike one of Meissonier’s grandest battlefield scenes …. In all, King pulls off a tour de force of complex narrative that readers of his previous books will have come to expect.” — New York Times Book Review “Like King''s previous books, Brunelleschi''s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope''s Ceiling , The Judgment of Paris is as much a portrait of a place and time as a story about art. King packs the book with details about social customs, new inventions and politics. He relates the exploits of the emperor Louis-Napoleon, the folly of the Franco-Prussian War, the humiliating siege of Paris, and the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune … he weaves his material together skilfully, and tells his story with wit and enthusiasm.” — Winnipeg Free Press "Engrossing. … [A] 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." R
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