By Chet Yarbrough
Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies
By: Ross King
Narrated by: Joel Richards
Ross King (Canadian Author of books on Italian, French and Canadian Art and History.)
Ross King refreshes one’s interest in the history of WWI while revealing much of the mystery and appeal of Claude Monet and his art. Monet’s diminutive size contrasts with his giant impact on impressionism. As a founding father of impressionism, Monet’s passion is to show the effect of light on life and nature.
Having read biographies of Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, Monet is certainly not the first to have had a passion for the effect of light on a subject. Monet produces light that moves an admirer from objective observation to subjective pleasure.
YOUNG MONET AND MATURED MONET AS PAINTED AND LATER PHOTOED.
King recounts Monet’s relationship with Clemenceau, known in France as the tiger before WWI, and the Father of Victory at its end. King explains Clemenceau is a duelist in his early years who becomes a physician, newspaper writer/publisher, and then politician.
Clemenceau at Age 24 in 1865.
Clemenceau is recognized as a great orator and leader of men by no less than Winston Churchill.
Clemenceau becomes prime minister of France during WWI.
Clemenceau cheers French resistance to the German assault of France. At defeat of Germany, Clemenceau presses for German reparations, including return of the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. He insists on full compensation for German destruction from WWI.
King offers a Eurocentric view of WWI. France is not a great fan of America’s reluctance to join the war when France is pummeled by Germany. Though Clemenceau appreciates the ideal of Wilson’s 14-point plan, he objects to the League of Nations and insists on German reparations that set the table for WWII.
Monet is also not a great admirer of America. He considers American buyers of his art as profligate and ignorant of fine art and their value. King notes both Clemenceau and Monet admire Japanese artists and collect many of their works. Many of Monet’s paintings are sold to Japanese buyers.
Clemenceau and Monet are close friends until death. Monet is the first to go but Clemenceau is ill and soon to die. Both were of a similar age. Both were hard working Frenchmen in their respective professions. Monet’s art is sold or bartered during his life to private and public museums. Many of Monet’s works are donated to the French government at his death. A government financed museum is created for an exclusive exhibit of Monet’s paintings.
King notes Monet loses much of his eyesight in later years, but he perseveres with the help of eye surgery that returns some vision to one eye. Clemenceau plays a large part in convincing Monet to donate his art to France. As both are approaching death, Monet’s penchant for procrastination nearly fractures their close relationship. Part of the fracturing is related to the government’s problems with creating a museum that would meet Monet’s requirements. Some of his canvases were huge and Monet wished to have them displayed in an oval shaped museum. Additionally, King notes Monet is often dissatisfied with a painting and would destroy it and start over. Monet is also noted to dawdle when nearing a paintings completion by leaving a detail that is planned but never executed. King explains Monet’s work ethic is phenomenal. He wakes at dawn and works through the night until his energy is spent.
Clemenceau is a significant character in King’s biography of Monet. In some respects, the two men are alike. They are both relentlessly energetic in their respective professions. Though Clemenceau is a doctor, his passion is in publishing and politics. He travels the world. Monet restricts his travel to France, mostly between Paris and Giverny but with a passion for work equal to Clemenceau’s. Monet’s passion is for impressionist renderings of the natural world.
As Monet’s vision deteriorates, later work reimagines impressionism based on failing vision–but more poignantly, it seems Monet’s later paintings reflect on the trials of a long life.
King suggests looking at one of Monet’s water lilies paintings long enough gives one’s imagination free reign to see something more than a pond. Some see figures of women, others–spirits of the dead. A lily pond seems as much a tribute to life as to decay.
In King’s epilogue, Monet is glorified in a review and contrast of early and late impressionist paintings. King reminds listeners of Monet’s initial vilification by the art world, his resurrection, demise, and reification in modern times. What Monet could see with younger eyes, before cataracts obscured his vision, King recognizes as a new era of art. King offers tribute to two great men, Clemenceau’s political renown which revels in his time and Monet’s art celebrated for all time.