Claude Monet is perhaps the world's most beloved artist, and among all his creations, the paintings of the water lilies in his garden at Giverny are most famous. Monet intended the water lilies to provide "an asylum of peaceful meditation." Yet, as Ross King reveals in his magisterial chronicle of both artist and masterpiece, these beautiful canvases belie the intense frustration Monet experienced in trying to capture the fugitive effects of light, water, and color. They also reflect the terrible personal torments Monet suffered in the last dozen years of his life.
Mad Enchantment tells the full story behind the creation of the Water Lilies, as the horrors of World War I came ever closer to Paris and Giverny and a new generation of younger artists, led by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, were challenging the achievements of Impressionism. By early 1914, French newspapers were reporting that Monet, by then seventy-three, 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 on a more ambitious scale than ever before. Linking great artistic achievement to the personal and historical dramas unfolding around it, Ross King presents the most intimate and revealing portrait of an iconic figure in world culture.
"Ross King’s Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies is an 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 . . . A moving portrait of the artist as an old man."—Deborah Solomon, New York Times Book Review
"King, author of books on Michelangelo, Leonardo and Machiavelli, offers a well-researched and in-depth account, based on Monet's letters and the reminiscences and writings of his many friends and admirers . . . Readers will come away with an enhanced understanding of Monet's art, about which King is insightful and articulate. And when King animates the colorful politics of Monet's France, the book sparkles."—Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post
"Biographer Ross King once again puts a human face on the historical narrative of an artistic triumph . . . [Monet] described himself as 'at war with nature and time,' and 'Mad Enchantment' captures that war with page-turning intensity."—Christian Science Monitor
“Mr. King's portrait of Monet--as driven, largely generous, sometimes petulant, never quite cruel—is finely balanced . . . Mr. King’s first-rate 'The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism' (2006) centered on youth and aesthetic revolt. 'Mad Enchantment,' by contrast, celebrates the twilit culmination of the Impressionist movement. Taken together, they are satisfying and informative bookends.”—Wall Street Journal
“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.”—New York Journal of Books
"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."—Christopher Sullivan, The Associated Press
"[A] sensitive, deeply researched and altogether delightful biography."—Newsday
"A vivid account of Claude Monet (1840-1926) facing his greatest artistic challenge in the last years of his life . . . 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."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"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. VERDICT: This work is essential."—Library Journal, starred review
"Best-selling King (Leonardo and the Last Supper, 2012) consummately meshes biography with art history as he turns the creation of one resounding masterpiece into a portal onto the artist's life . . . 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