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Cover image for The judgment of Paris : the revolutionary decade that gave the world Impressionism
The judgment of Paris : the revolutionary decade that gave the world Impressionism


Publication Information:
New York : Walker & Co. : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck, 2006.
Physical Description:
xiii, 448 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Chez Meissonier -- Modern life -- The lure of perfection -- Mademoiselle V. -- Dreams of genius -- Youthful daring -- A baffling maze of canvas -- The Salon of Venus -- The tempest of fools -- Famous victories -- Young France -- Deliberations -- Room M -- Plein air -- A beastly slop -- The apostle of ugliness -- Maître Velázquez -- The jury of assassins -- Monet or Manet? -- A flash of swords -- Marvels, wonders and miracles -- Funeral for a friend -- Maneuvers -- A salon of newcomers -- Au bord de la mer -- Mademoiselle Berthe -- Flying gallops -- The wild boar of the Batignolles -- Vaulting ambitions -- The Prussian terror -- The last days of Paris -- A carnival of blood -- Days of hardship -- The apples of discord -- A ring of gold -- Pure Haarlem beer -- Beyond perfection -- The liberation of Paris -- Epilogue: finishing touches -- Political timeline.
Chronicles the origins of Impressionism against the backdrop of the artistic and cultural events of the nineteenth century as exemplified in the work of two artists--Ernest Meissonier and Edouard Manet.


Call Number
759.4 King 2006

On Order



While the Civil War raged in America, another very different revolution was beginning to take shape across the Atlantic, in the studios of Paris: The artists who would make Impressionism the most popular art form in history were showing their first paintings amidst scorn and derision from the French artistic establishment. Indeed, no artistic movement has ever been, at its inception, quite so controversial. The drama of its birth, played out on canvas, would at times resemble a battlefield; and, as Ross King reveals, Impressionism would reorder both history and culture as it resonated around the world.

The Judgment of Paris chronicles the dramatic decade between two famous exhibitions--the scandalous Salon des Refuses in 1863 and the first Impressionist showing in 1874--set against the rise and dramatic fall of Napoleon III and the Second Empire after the Franco-Prussian War. A tale of many artists, it revolves around the lives of two, described as "the two poles of art"--Ernest Meissonier, the most famous and successful painter of the 19th century, hailed for his precision and devotion to history; and Edouard Manet, reviled in his time, who nonetheless heralded the most radical change in the history of art since the Renaissance. Out of the fascinating story of their parallel lives, illuminated by their legendary supporters and critics--Zola, Delacroix, Courbet, Baudelaire, Whistler, Monet, Hugo, Degas, and many more--Ross King shows that their contest was not just about Art, it was about competing visions of a rapidly changing world.

With a novelist's skill and the insight of an historian, King recalls a seminal period when Paris was the artistic center of the world, and a revolutionary movement had the power to electrify and divide a nation.

Author Notes

Born and raised in Canada, Ross King has lived in England since 1992. In 2002--03, two books of his were published in the United States, Domino , about the world of masquerades and opera in 18th century London and the New York Times bestselling Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling .

Nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2003 in the category of critisicm, in Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling King tells the story of the four years--1508-1512.--Michelangelo spent painting the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine chapel. In this extraordinary book, he presents a magnificent tapestry of day-to-day life of the ingenious Sistine scaffolding and outside in the upheaval of early 16th century Rome.

King's highly acclaimed Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture , was an instant hit in the U.S., landing on the New York Times , Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle bestseller lists and becoming a handselling favorite among booksellers. Brunelleschi's Dome was chosen "The 2000 Book Sense Nonfiction Book of the Year" and a Book Sense 76 top ten selection.

Anyone familiar with Ross King's writing knows that he has an astonishing knowledge of European cultural history. He originally planned a career in academia, earning his Ph.D. in English Literature and moving to England to assume a research position at the University of London.

King lives near Oxford, England, in the historic town of Woodstock, the site of Blenheim Palace. He is a devoted cyclist and hikes regularly in both the Pyrenees and the Canadian Rockies.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

NBCC finalist King (Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling) presents an engrossing account of the years from 1863-when paintings denied entry into the French Academy's yearly Salon were shown at the Salon des Refuses-to 1874, the date of the first Impressionist exhibition. To dramatize the conflict between academicians and innovators during these years, he follows the careers of two formidable, and very different, artists: Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, a conservative painter celebrated for detailed historical subjects, and Edouard Manet, whose painting Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe caused an uproar at the Salon des Refuses. Many other artists of the day, among them Courbet, Degas, Morisot, Monet and Cezanne, are included in King's compelling narrative, and the story is further enhanced by the author's 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. An epilogue underscores the irony of the tale: after his death, Meissonier quickly fell from favor, while Manet, whose paintings were once judged scandalous, was recognized as a great artist who set the stage for Impressionism and the future of painting. Illus. not seen by PW. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

A fluid, engaging account of how the conflicting careers of two French painters--the popular establishment favorite Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier and the oft-reviled newcomer Édouard Manet--reveal the slow emergence of Impressionism and its new view of painting and the world. King, a novelist (Domino, 2002, etc.) and art historian (Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, 2003, etc.), has crafted an exciting chronicle about political and cultural change. By shifting the light of his research from Meissonier (whose career is now at its nadir) to Manet (whose paintings now go for millions of dollars) and back again, the author illuminates an entire epoch. Many great characters in cultural history appear--Baudelaire, Zola, Henry James--not to mention the painters whose names are now Olympian. Delacroix, Monet, Cézanne, Rossetti, Renoir--they all strut a bit on King's stage, as do political figures, most notably Napoleon III. The author does not neglect the military history of the period. There is a chapter-long narrative about the brutal Franco-Prussian War, during which Meissonier and Manet met while serving with the National Guard. (The war's bloody aftermath earns another chapter.) During the protracted Siege of Paris both artists found time to sketch and eat increasingly unappetizing forms of protein. But King's focus is on the art world--especially on the annual Salons, whose politics and popular reactions King thoroughly explores. Of great interest is the savage reception (including laughter and disgust and disdain--even from friends) that Manet endured year after year at the Salons. (He fought a feckless duel with one critic.) A weaker man might have considered another career. King illustrates that the clash of ideas is even more exciting than the clang of swords. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

King is a master at linking pivotal moments in art history to epic rivalries. n his third supremely engaging and illuminating inquiry (following Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, 2003), King summons forth mid-nineteenth-century Paris and vividly portrays two diametrically opposed artists. Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, the world's wealthiest and most celebrated painter, spends years laboring over his meticulously detailed historical paintings, eliminating every trace of the brush and striving for scientific precision. Newcomer Edouard Manet dispenses with the historical claptrap and the highly polished finish that are Meissonier's stock in trade, and boldly creates sharp contrasts and vigorous brushstrokes to depict ordinary people and brazenly matter-of-fact female nudes. Meissonier is a crowd-pleaser, Manet nearly instigates riots. King follows the fortunes of this pair of celebrity artists over the course of a decade as Meissonier becomes a giant to be slain and Manet is anointed king of the impressionists. Writing with zest and a remarkable command of diverse and fascinating facts, and offering keen insights into the matrix of art, politics, social mores, and technology, King charts the coalescence of a movement that changed not only painting for all time but also our way of seeing the world. And perhaps most laudably, he resurrects a discredited and forgotten figure, the marvelous monomaniac Meissonier, a man King has bemused affection and respect for, and an artist readers will be delighted to learn about. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2005 Booklist

Choice Review

King offers a fascinating, well-written account of the beginning of modernism in Paris during a decade that spanned the scandalous Salon des Refuses in 1863 and the first Impressionist show in 1874. Against the background of Napoleon III's Second Empire and the Franco-Prussian War, Impressionism was born. Arguably the most profound directional shift in Western art since the Renaissance, its cast of characters is impressive: Baudelaire, Cabanel, Cezanne, Courbet, Degas, Delacroix, Gautier, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Whistler, and Zola, among others. From this group the author singles out two: the famous, well-established Ernest Meissonier, a precise, well-schooled, academic artist devoted to history, and the often-reviled Edouard Manet, an independent artist whose unconventional approach to technique and subject matter ushered in a true revolution in art. Despite the scorn and derision of the establishment, Impressionism thrived and challenged the past's obsession with perspectival space, traditional technique, and the concept of mastery itself. King's narrative follows the lives of the artists, models, and writers as they negotiated outraged critics, salon juries, and accusations of "moral depravity and carnal eloquence." Well illustrated, with notes and an excellent index, this readable, scholarly work is a solid addition to any collection. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through professionals. R. M. Davis emeritus, Albion College

Library Journal Review

Best-selling author King (Brunelleschi's Dome) does not disappoint with this fast-paced romp through the Parisian art scene between 1863 (the first Salon des Refuses exhibition) and 1874 (the first impressionist exhibition). Political upheaval and public scandal set the background for artistic endeavors, which King cleverly frames with two diverse figures who seem to share only initials: Ernest Meissonier (representing the successful old guard) and Edouard Manet (the radical provocateur of the new order). While many artists and paintings are touched on, King's approach will surely disappoint scholars looking to explore the artwork itself in any critical depth; this is not a work of art historical acumen. King diligently assembles a swath of anecdotes and evidence, coaxing lively color and fascinating detail from even the most stolid of historical facts and documents. The book serves as an entertaining if broad account of a revolutionary transformation in vision-not least of all through art. Recommended for general audiences.-Prudence Peiffer, Cambridge, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xi
Chapter 1 Chez Meissonierp. 1
Chapter 2 Modern Lifep. 13
Chapter 3 The Lure of Perfectionp. 26
Chapter 4 Mademoiselle V.p. 36
Chapter 5 Dreams of Geniusp. 43
Chapter 6 Youthful Daringp. 48
Chapter 7 A Baffling Maze of Canvasp. 56
Chapter 8 The Salon of Venusp. 73
Chapter 9 The Tempest of Foolsp. 81
Chapter 10 Famous Victoriesp. 92
Chapter 11 Young Francep. 101
Chapter 12 Deliberationsp. 113
Chapter 13 Room Mp. 121
Chapter 14 Plein Airp. 132
Chapter 15 A Beastly Slopp. 144
Chapter 16 The Apostle of Uglinessp. 151
Chapter 17 Maitre Velazquezp. 159
Chapter 18 The Jury of Assassinsp. 167
Chapter 19 Monet or Manet?p. 175
Chapter 20 A Flash of Swordsp. 184
Chapter 21 Marvels, Wonders and Miraclesp. 192
Chapter 22 Funeral for a Friendp. 206
Chapter 23 Maneuversp. 217
Chapter 24 A Salon of Newcomersp. 227
Chapter 25 Au Bord de la Merp. 233
Chapter 26 Mademoiselle Berthep. 241
Chapter 27 Flying Gallopsp. 248
Chapter 28 The Wild Boar of the Batignollesp. 257
Chapter 29 Vaulting Ambitionsp. 265
Chapter 30 The Prussian Terrorp. 272
Chapter 31 The Last Days of Parisp. 281
Chapter 32 A Carnival of Bloodp. 293
Chapter 33 Days of Hardshipp. 310
Chapter 34 The Apples of Discordp. 318
Chapter 35 A Ring of Goldp. 327
Chapter 36 Pure Haarlem Beerp. 332
Chapter 37 Beyond Perfectionp. 342
Chapter 38 The Liberation of Parisp. 349
Epilogue: Finishing Touchesp. 362
Political Timelinep. 375
Acknowledgmentsp. 379
Notesp. 381
Bibliographyp. 423
Indexp. 437