River of Light

This is an attractive, well-designed book, one that lovers of Monet will want to own. It contains more than sixty-five excellent reproductions of Monet’s paintings, as well as numerous photographs of people and places in the painter’s life. Apart from the illustrations, the strength of the book lies in Douglas Skeggs’s excellent analyses of individual works, which give genuine insight into each painting. Particularly illuminating is his commentary on how Monet’s paintings consistently create for the viewer such an arresting sensation of light. As Guy de Maupassant put it, Monet could “seize a glittering shower of light ... and fix it in a flood of ... tones.” The account of the evolution of Monet’s style and technique is also valuable-- there is enough detail to give insight but not to bore or intimidate the nonspecialist reader, and the text is always related to the reproductions.

The narrative briefly traces the development of Monet’s career, from the first manifestation of his talent as a caricaturist to the impressive cycles of water lily paintings which were his last works. Skeggs, who is director of the New Academy of Art in London, focuses on evoking the life of the small towns on the Seine, such as Argenteuil, La Grenouillere, Bennecourt, Vetheuil, and Giverny, as Monet would have known them. What remains in the mind after this lively and pleasing book is closed, however, is not the text, good though it is, but the paintings themselves, “these mysterious evocations, these transparent mirrors,” as one contemporary critic, enraptured by the series “Morning on the Seine,” described them.