September 27, 2016
2035 Yonge St.
We have all seen—live, in photographs, on postcards—some of Claude Monet’s legendary water lily paintings. They are in museums all over the world, and are among the most admired paintings of our time. Yet nobody knows the extraordinarily dramatic story behind their creation. Telling that story is the brilliant historian, Ross King—and in the process, he presents a compelling and original portrait of perhaps the most beloved artist in history.
As World War I exploded within hearing distance of his house at Giverny, Monet was facing his own personal crucible. In 1911, his adored wife, Alice, had died, plunging him into deep mourning at age 71. A year later he began going blind. Then, his eldest son, Jean, fell ill and died of syphilis, and his other son was sent to the front to fight for France. Within months, a violent storm destroyed much of the garden that had been his inspiration for some 20 years. At the same time, his reputation was under attack, as a new generation of artists, led by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, were dazzling the art world and expressing disgust with Impressionism. Against all this, fighting his own self-doubt, depression and age, Monet found the wherewithal to construct a massive new studio, 70 feet long and 50 feet high, to accommodate the gigantic canvases that would, he hoped, revive him.
Using letters, memoirs and other sources not employed by other biographers, and focusing on this remarkable period in the artist’s life, Ross King reveals a more complex, more human, more intimate Claude Monet than has ever been portrayed, and firmly places his water lily project among the greatest achievements in the history of art.
ROSS KING is the author of The Judgment of Paris, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven and Leonardo and the Last Supper. He has twice won the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction (for The Judgment of Paris and Leonardo and the Last Supper). Born and raised in Canada, he holds degrees from the University of Regina, York University in Toronto and University College, London. He now lives near Oxford, England.