Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies

About the Author

Ross King is the best-selling author of books on Italian, French, and Canadian art and history. Among his books are Brunelleschis Dome (2000), Michelangelo and the Popes Ceiling (2002), The Judgment of Paris (Governor General’s Award, 2006), and Leonardo and The Last Supper (Governor General’s Award, 2012). He has also published two novels (Domino and Ex-Libris), a biography of Niccolò Machiavelli, and a collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s fables, jokes, and riddles. He is the co-author with Anja Grebe of Florence: The Paintings & Frescoes, 1250-1743 (2015), the most comprehensive book ever undertaken on the art of Florence. Ross’s latest book, Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies, marks his return to French impressionism ten years after his award-winning The Judgement of Paris.

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies

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Ross King

Claude Monet is perhaps the world's most beloved artist, and among all his creations, the paintings of the water lilies in his garden at Giverny are most famous. Seeing them in museums around the world, viewers are transported by the power of Monet's brush into a peaceful world of harmonious nature. Monet himself intended them to provide “an asylum of peaceful meditation.” Yet, as Ross King reveals in his magisterial chronicle of both artist and masterpiece, these beautiful canvases belie the intense frustration Monet experienced at the difficulties of capturing the fugitive effects of light, water, and color. They also reflect the terrible personal torments Monet suffered in the last dozen years of his life.


Mad Enchantment tells the full story behind the creation of the Water Lilies, as the horrors of World War I came ever closer to Paris and Giverny, and a new generation of younger artists, led by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, were challenging the achievements of impressionism. By early 1914, French newspapers were reporting that Monet, by then 73 and one of the world's wealthiest, most celebrated painters, had retired his brushes. He had lost his beloved wife, Alice, and his eldest son, Jean. His famously acute vision—what Paul Cézanne called "the most prodigious eye in the history of painting"—was threatened by cataracts. And yet, despite ill health, self-doubt, and advancing age, Monet began painting again on a more ambitious scale than ever before. Linking great artistic achievement to the personal and historical dramas unfolding, Ross King presents the most intimate and revealing portrait of an iconic figure in world culture—from his lavish lifestyle and tempestuous personality to his close friendship with the fiery war leader Georges Clémenceau, who regarded the Water Lilies as one of the highest expressions of the human spirit.

  • Hardcover
  • 6.125 x 9.25 inches
  • 416 pages, 16-page color insert, b+w images throughout
  • Published: 2016

Editorial Reviews

“King, author of books on Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Machiavelli, offers a well-researched and in-depth account, based on Monet's letters and the reminiscences and writings of his many friends and admirers. . . . Readers will come away with an enhanced understanding of Monet's art, about which King is insightful and articulate. And when King animates the colorful politics of Monet's France, the book sparkles.” —Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post

“[A] sensitive, deeply researched and altogether delightful biography.” —Newsday

“A vivid account of Claude Monet (1840–1926) facing his greatest artistic challenge in the last years of his life. . . . King elegantly reveals the soul of a great artist, the last impressionist standing at the end of one of history's most remarkable art movements.” —Kirkus, starred review

“Biographer Ross King once again puts a human face on the historical narrative of an artistic triumph . . . . [Monet] described himself as 'at war with nature and time,' and 'Mad Enchantment' captures that war with page-turning intensity.” —Christian Science Monitor

“King, an exhaustive researcher and a pleasing writer, has produced a perceptive chronicle of war and friendship, shifting tastes and lasting art—and of the painted reflections of a pond that became a mirror.” —Christopher Sullivan, The Associated Press

“King is ever the brilliant docent murmuring the right, telling details and critical backstories in our ear as we move through space and time. He ultimately brings the man and his work into perfect focus while increasing his audience's interest in both all the more. Verdict: This work is essential.” —Library Journal, starred review

“Best-selling King (Leonardo and the Last Supper, 2012) consummately meshes biography with art history as he turns the creation of one resounding masterpiece into a portal onto the artist's life. . . . Never before has the full drama and significance of Monet's magnificent Water Lilies been conveyed with such knowledge and perception, empathy and wonder.” —Booklist, starred review

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