I’ve just finished reading Ross King’s The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism (2006). The painters of Impressionism had always interested me, so I was happy to find a writer who placed them in their world, and explained the influences that shaped their work. Ross King does that in a very readable book. My only quibble is with the dearth of coloured plates. Expensive, I know, but I wanted to see more.
The most interesting personality King reveals is that of Meisonnier, a painter, obscure until he began to play a role in King’s book, but a giant in French 19th century art. King contrasts his story, one of success and riches, of obsessive painting and repainting, of intense research into such unlikely subjects as equine locomotion—at one time he built a small railroad on his property and used it to make hundreds of drawings of horses as they ran alongside— with that of the Impressionists, obsessed with light and colour and painting in the open air, and catching the fleeting beauty of a sunrise or a day in the park. Meissonier emerges from King’s pages as a fully realized character, with all his flaws and genius.
King writes so well, I was disappointed when he, or rather events, ended the story with the last Impressionist exhibition. He has gone on to write about The Group of Seven in Defiant Spirits, and more recently Leonardo and the Last Supper, the latter winning him his second Governor General Award. The first was for The Judgement of Paris. Defiant Spirits is next on my list.
Interest in art history has led me to The Great Courses, and Professor Richard Brettell, teaching From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism, an audio-visual course, and excellent companion to King’s book.