The ‰Judgment of Paris: the revolutionary decade that gave the world Impressionism

by Ross King

Hardcover, 2006




New York, Walker & Company, c2006


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member NielsenGW
Human beings have been painting since they first figured how to create pigments in caves. For every painter, there’s a unique way to painting something, but the world of 19th century France didn’t see it that way. They had strict rules for what was considered good painting and what didn’t pass muster. Ross King’s Judgment of Paris recounts the ten years that led to the first modern schism in the art world. On one side was the Salon de Paris, championed by Ernest Messonier, and the other were the Impressionists, founded by a scrappy, radical artist known as Eduard Manet.

The Judgment of Paris chronicles the parallel lives of Messonier and Manet to show how one railed against change and how the other helped to show the world a different way to look at itself. Manet’s movement started with treating everyday people as grand subjects for paintings. Up until then, the Salon de Paris standardized the techniques and subjects allowed for what was considered “high art” and the common folk were considered declasse. Manet, along with Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet, decided that, after having been rejected time and time again by the Salon de Paris, that they should establish their own Salon—the Salon des Refuses (The Salon of the Refused).

While this could be considered a tad petulent, it allowed the public to see the new movement in art. Instead of allowing line, contour, and historical grandiosity dominate the picture, the Impressionists focused on light, color, and atmosphere. Nowadays, this seems rather trivial, but in the 1860s, this was enough to cause a public outrage.

King’s writing is fun and moves along at a decent clip, much in the current style of history-as-a-novel. There are times where he gets very involved in the details of Parisian living, but its add atmosphere to help flesh out the intricate art happenings. Also, it’s a good way to get in backdoor info on the French authors Zola, Hugo, and Baudelaire. My only gripe about the book is that it needed more color illustrations. King’s descriptions are one thing, but having the paintings at hand really helps to get the history across.

Also, I used to consider myself fairly knowledgable about art and art history. Once, on a family vacation to Rome, my parent gave me my own day to plan out and go to whatever I wanted. I chose to do a walking tour of the city to find many of the public sculptures of Gian Bernini and end the day at the Vatican Pinacoteca to view Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ (it was stunning). Until this book, I had never heard of Messonier or his fight againt the Impressionist movement. I guess you really do learn something new every day.
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LibraryThing member scofer
King chronicles the careers of two French artists, Ernest Meissonier and Edouard Manet, during the late 19th century. Meissonier, the darling of the Paris Salon (the organization that could make or break an artist’s career during that time), was the most famous and highest paid painter of the day. In contrast, Manet, heralded as the father of the Impressionist movement, struggled with constant rejection by the Salon as well as the critics. Manet's popularity came later in his career and following his death while Meissonier's work has since faded into obscurity. King gives a fascinating look at the politics and history of the turbulent time period. My only criticism: while the book provided some illustrations of the paintings, there could have been more. King went into great detail about the minute details of many paintings, which was wonderful when the painting was illustrated in the book, but a bit frustrating when it was not. All in all, a good read.… (more)
LibraryThing member ChristineEllei
I love the Impressionists and found this book, not only an enjoyable read, but one the most understandable and comprehensive book about the whole movement. It not only covered the whole Impressionist period in Paris in the late 1800's, but also about the artist's personal lives, some history of the time and the ruling Bonaparte family. For anyone with an interest in this period of art ... I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member rodneyvdb
What a fine Judgement!

This book is really interesting and it's very difficult to lay it down before the last page is actually read!

The detailed (but never boring) description of the lives and works of two French painters (Messonier and Manet) during the 1860-1870's forms the central stage of a much larger play in which the turbulent development of art during that period in Paris (and with Paris then being the artistic center of the world, the art world at large) is fascinatingly unveiled.

The concept of zooming in on two opposite and interesting contemporaries to tell a larger story of the period at hand really works well.

I'll certainly be keeping titles by Ross King in mind for further reading.
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LibraryThing member MaowangVater
King uses the lives and careers of painters Edouard Manet and Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier to tell the story of the upheavals, political and artistic, in the French capital from 1863 to 1874. As the book opens Meissonier is “the world's wealthiest and most celebrated painter.” Famous for the realistic perfection of his detailed paintings, he lives in a country mansion with two studios, one for the summer, and one for the winter. By contrast the younger artist, Edouard Manet is living off money from his aunt and painting canvases that the critics and the general populace find so poorly executed that they are skewered by bad reviews in the press, and draw a crowd at public exhibitions where they are the objects of derisive laugher. It looks like he slaps the things together without bothering to finish them. Some details are distinct and others are just blobs of paint daubed on with his brush. You call that painting?

Yet around the critically and publicly ridiculed Manet gathered a group of younger artists, whose names are instantly recognizable in the twenty-first century: Renoir, Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Cézanne, Cassatt, and Whistler, while Meissonier’s reputation has faded.
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LibraryThing member Opinionated
To be honest, this book is not as good as it should be. Its a good snapshot of the early years of Manet, the prime years of Meissonier and some engaging gossip about the Paris Salons of the 1870s. But at the end of it I was really none the wiser as to how and why Impressionism came to be - plein air painting does not automatically lead to Impressionism. And I am even less clear on why Meissonier went from the most famous artist of his day to a footnote in the annals of Art History. Yes, fashions change but there must be more to it than that.
So overall this is a an interesting and amusing narrative but could have done with more contextual discussion. I was left unsatisfied
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LibraryThing member tloeffler
The decade between 1863 and 1873 marked the beginning of Impressionism in France. This book covers that period, focusing mainly on Ernest Meissonier and Edouard Manet and the struggles and successes they had both commercially and critically. Interspersed are the repercussions on Art of the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune. A great history of the time, although it seems to fall apart at the end, as though the author wasn't sure how to end it.… (more)
LibraryThing member donblanco
Fascinating and rich with history. Truly enjoyed visiting the two main wineries represented here. A wonderful tale!
LibraryThing member etxgardener
It's hard to believe that Impressionism, the almost universally loved school of art would ever have been regarded as dangerous and controversial. However, in the 1860's that's precisely how it was regarded by the powers that be in France. This entertaining group tells the story of the movement through two opposing artists of the time: Ernest Meissonier and Edouard Manet, the former an accepted and officially revered traditionalist and the latter a revolutionary at the vanguard of a new wave of art.

It also weaves the history of the time through the story, the rise of the Second Empire, Baron Haussmann's rebuilding of Paris, the Franco-Prussian War, the bloody Commune, and finally La Belle Epoch. A great read for those who love art, history and/or France
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LibraryThing member vlodko62
I always enjoy histories of the arts (music history, literary history and art history), and Ross King is one of the best art historians writing for a broad audience. Obviously, a book (or in my case, an audio book) about art has its limitations (which copious use of Google Image search is the remedy).

The beauty of King's work is his focus on the *history* aspect - not just the history of the artists, but the history of the period more broadly. The history of the Second Empire and its fall, the Paris Commune of 1871, and the earliest days of the Third Republic are all here. We learn a lot about the artists, but also Napoleon III (and to a lesser extent, Napoleon Bonaparte), Wilhelm I of Prussia, and the political leaders of France in the period from 1863 onward.

The hero here is Eduard Manet; the ultimate villain is Ernest Meissonier. You might ask about the latter, "Who?" This book will tell you. Both hero and villain are portrayed not in black and white, but in varying shades of grey, with all of their human warts and foibles. A great read.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
As good an introduction to the impressionist movement as I've read, though the end feels a bit rushed (and to be honest I haven't read all that many). Not quite to the same level as others of King's books, but still provides a very decent treatment of the evolution of the movement's critical reception. King's biographical details on the not-at-all-well-known-now Meissonier were fascinating, too.… (more)
LibraryThing member Docbliss
Tremendous! Any art history or history lover should read this. Great integration of the history period with the two highlighted artists Manet and Meissonier. Although after reading I was more excited about learning more about Courbet.



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