Book Report: The Judgement of Paris
The Judgement of Paris: Manet, Meissonier, and an Artistic Revolution contrasts the lives and artistic struggles of two painters against the backdrop of life in Paris. In the 1860s Ernest Meissonier was one of the most famous artists in Europe. His fame was built on his thoroughly detailed, realistic depiction of historical subjects. Meissonier sold his works for record prices and could afford to spend years working on them (he took 13 years to paint Napoleon's victory at Friedland). Today his name commonly receives the response "Who?". At the same time Eduoard Manet, who now features in many Art History courses, was ridiculed by the establishment for his paintings, rejected time and again by the Salon. His determination to pursue his vision, which would be instrumental in changing the way artists painted and the development of Impressionism, is inspirational. It's a book that's riveting for the overall story of the two artists and the art world at that time, for the insight into the inner workings of the influential Salon which could make or destroy a painter's reputation, and for the info on the methods and approaches of the two painters. Meissonier made numerous preparatory studies for every painting and worked out the composition, "usually by means of a three-dimensional scale model of the scene", a strategy used by painters such as Michelangelo and Gainsborough. "Almost nothing was left to chance or imagination; everything had to be ... impeccably correct." Manet's paintings, by contrast, seemed unfinished, and the visible workmanship contrary to expectations. Today it's hard to imagine Manet's work as cutting edge, but he changed painting forever. Reading more like a historical novel with a cast of familiar and unfamiliar historical figures than art history, this book transports you into 19th-century Paris and gives you a feel of what the search for artistic fame is akin to.
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