Books·Canadian

Mad Enchantment

Historian Ross King wrote this biography of French artist Claude Monet, focussing on the creation of his series of paintings of water lilies.

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. Monet himself intended them to provide an asylum of peaceful meditation. Yet, as Ross King reveals, these beautiful canvases belie the frustration Monet experienced in capturing light, water and colour. 

They also reflect the terrible personal torments Monet suffered in the last dozen years of his life. By early 1914, French newspapers were reporting that Monet, by then 73, had retired his brushes. He had lost his beloved wife and his eldest son. His famously acute vision was threatened by cataracts. And yet, despite this, Monet began painting again. Linking great artistic achievement to the dramas unfolding around it, Ross King presents an intimate portrait of an iconic figure. (From Bond Street Books)

Mad Enchantment won the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize.

Read an excerpt | Author interviews

From the book

The large house, the light-filled studio, the fleet of automobiles — such luxuries had come late. Monet's early years as a painter occasionally featured irate landlords and shopkeepers, out-of-pocket friends and enforced economies. "For the past eight days," he lamented in 1869, aged twenty-nine, "I've had no bread, no wine, no fire for the kitchen, no light." That same year he claimed to have no money to buy paints, and bailiffs seized four of his paintings from the walls of an exhibition to settle his numerous debts. Over the next decade his canvases sometimes went for as little as 20 francs each — at a time when a blank canvas cost 4 francs. He was once forced to give paintings to a baker in return for bread. A draper proved "impossible to appease." His laundress sequestered his bedsheets when he failed to pay her bill. "If I don't come up with 600 francs by tomorrow night," he wrote to a friend in 1877, "my furniture and all I own will be sold and we'll be thrown into the street." When a butcher sent round the bailiffs to impound his possessions, Monet vengefully slashed two hundred of his canvases. He once, so the legend went, spent a winter living on potatoes.


From Mad Enchantment by Ross King ©2016. Published by Bond Street Books.

Author interviews

At 73 years old, lost in grief at the death of his beloved wife, eyesight misted by cataracts, and on the eve of the First World War, Claude Monet created one of the world's most ambitious and beautiful works of art. 36:35
The author, most recently, of Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies on his favourite painter, what makes Dante better than Shakespeare, and more. 6:04
Author Ross King talks about his summer spent shovelling manure on a Saskatchewan farm 1:17