During the last thirty-five years of his life, Claude Monet worked obsessively at the great task of his old age: to capture on canvas the range of light that he saw in water lilies reflected in water. The water-lily paintings, of which there are several series, were produced, sometimes in an agony of frustration, in his garden at Giverny in Normandy, a lush and watery paradise of pools and overhanging willows. He moved there in 1883, some twenty years after he and his fellow Impressionists had scandalised the Salon, but he only started to paint the water lilies in 1893, when he cleared land to create the Japanese-inspired water gardens in which he planted them. He became a reclusive and wealthy monument of the artistic establishment. His friends were other elderly artists and writers, white-bearded sages such as Renoir or former firebrands such as the novelist Octave Mirbeau. One by one, Monet’s old collaborators died and took with them the last echoes of the radicalism of the previous century.
This, then, is the background for Ross King’s Mad Enchantment. Following on from acclaimed books on the making of Brunelleschi’s dome and Leonardo’s Last Supper, King brings us the making of Monet’s water lilies. Or, more specifically, because his interest is in taking an artistic moment and examining