Ross King Wins the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize for Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of Water Lilies

Established as a biennial prize in 1998 by the trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation, 2017 marks the sixteenth awarding of the RBC Taylor Prize, which commemorates Charles Taylor's pursuit of excellence in the field of literary non-fiction. Awarded to the author whose book best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception, the Prize consists of $25,000 for the winner and $2,000 for each of the remaining finalists, as well as promotional support to help all of the nominated books to stand out in the media, bookstores, and libraries.

Sharing a commitment to emerging Canadian talent, the Charles Taylor Foundation and RBC will also grant the fourth annual RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Award. Shortly after the announcement of the 2017 Prize, its winner will name their choice of emerging author to receive this $10,000 award.

The trustees of the Charles Taylor Foundation are: Michael Bradley, Vijay Parmar, David Staines, Edward Taylor, Nadina Taylor, and Noreen Taylor.

The presenting sponsor of the RBC Taylor Prize is RBC Wealth Management. Its media sponsors are The Globe and Mail, CBC Books, CNW Group, The Huffington Post Canada, Maclean's magazine, and Quill & Quiremagazine; its in-kind sponsors are Ben McNally Books, Event Source, IFOA, The Omni King Edward Hotel, and the Toronto Public Library Board.
The Winner of the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize is Ross King (Oxford, England) for his book Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of Water Lilies by Ross King (Oxford, England), published by Bond Street Books. The $25,000 award was announced today by Prize founder and Chair Noreen Taylor during a gala luncheon celebrating this year's finalists at The Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto. In addition to the cash prize, Mr. King received a crystal trophy and a leather-bound version of his book.

Noreen Taylor, prize founder and chair of the Charles Taylor Foundation expressed her delight, stating: "Well-crafted prose assumes even greater prestige and authority as we face a near-daily barrage of 'alternative facts' and things that read 'as if' they are true. The RBC Taylor Prize is proud to continue our tradition of support for this essential branch of our national literature. Of course, the task of championing the best in non-fiction reading is a whole lot easier when you have such fine writers as the 2017 finalists."

Vijay Parmar, president of RBC PH&N Investment Counsel, added: "On behalf of RBC Wealth Management, congratulations to Ross King on this remarkable achievement. He joins an impressive list of authors who have played a part in shaping our country's literary non-fiction landscape. We are proud to partner with the Charles Taylor Foundation in recognizing the amazing talent of Canadian non-fiction writers as Presenting Sponsor of the RBC Taylor Prize."

In its citation of the winning book, the jury notes: "Claude Monet's Water Lilies paintings in the Musée de l'Orangerie at the Jardin Tuileries rank among the greatest masterpieces of world art. Their creation came late in Monet's life when cataracts marred his sight, death struck his wife and son, and war raged close to his lily ponds at Giverny. Ross King brilliantly captures the furies of Monet and the enormous challenges he overcame in painting the twenty-two panels of lilies that surround l'Orangerie. An exceptional art historian, King grasps the political tempests of wartime France, and his portrait of Monet's close friend, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, will be essential reading for all who want to understand the intersection of politics, nationalism, and culture in France during the First World War. In this elegantly written and superbly researched book, Ross King illuminates Water Lilies and Monet as no one has before."

About the winner: Ross King is the author of The Judgment of Paris, Brunelleschi's Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven and Leonardo and the Last Supper. His work has twice won the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction and has been shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize. Born and raised in Canada, he holds degrees from the University of Regina, York University in Toronto and University College, London. He now lives near Oxford, England.

The four remaining finalists — Max Eisen (Toronto, ON) for By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz, published by HarperCollins Publishers; Matti Friedman (Jerusalem) for Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier's Story, published by Signal/McClelland & Stewart; Marc Raboy (Montreal, QC) for Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World, published by Oxford University Press; and Diane Schoemperlen (Kingston, ON) for This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications, published by HarperCollins Canada — each received a $2000 honorarium, a leather-bound version of their book, and extensive publicity.

The jurors for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize are John English, Ann MacMillan, and Colin McAdam. They read and evaluated 101 books written by Canadian authors and submitted by 29 Canadian and international publishers to determine the winner for this, the sixteenth awarding of the prestigious prize.



2017 RBC Taylor Prize winner Ross King  with founder Noreen Taylor(Photo KJ Mullins) (newz4u publications)

2017 RBC Taylor Prize winner Ross King (Photo Tom Sandler) (CNW Group/RBC Taylor Prize)

2017 RBC TAYLOR PRIZE

   The 2017 shortlist is as follows: 

By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz by Max Eisen (Toronto, ON), published by HarperCollins Canada; 
Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier’s Story by Matti Friedman (Jerusalem), published by Signal / McClelland & Stewart;
Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of Water Lilies by Ross King (Oxford, England), published by Bond Street Books;
Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World by Marc Raboy (Montreal, QC), published by Oxford University Press; This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications by Diane Schoemperlen (Kingston, ON), published by HarperCollins Canada. 
The winner will be announced at a gala luncheon on Monday, March 6th, also at the Omni King Edward Hotel. 
  1. BY CHANCE ALONE
    Max Eisen speaks about his book on surviving the Holocaust
  2. THIS IS NOT MY LIFE
    Diane Schoemperlen speaks about the events in her life behind This Is Not My Life
  3. MARCONI
    Marc Raboy speaks about his biography of inventor Guglielmo Marconi
  4. Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier’s Story
    Matti Friedman talks about writing Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier’s Story
  1. Title 1
  2. Title 2
  3. Title 3
  4. Title 4
  5. Title 5
  6. Title 6
  7. Title 7
  8. Title 8
  9. Title 9
  10. Title 10
  11. Title 11
  12. Title 12
  13. Title 13
  14. Title 14
  15. Title 15
  16. Title 16

BOOK REVIEWS

 
There Is No Shame In Surviving Abuse: A Conversation with Diane Schoemperlen

Author of This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications discusses abuse, the prison system and love
 

 
By Chance Alone: A Miracle In The Face of Horror
 

 
It's a miracle that Max Eisen is sitting beside me talking about his book shortlisted for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize “By Chance Alone”. At the age of 15 Eisen entered into one of the most harrowing human nightmare of our time, Auschwitz-Birkenau. During the next year of his life he lost his family, was thrown into inhumane conditions and saw the worst of human nature. He survived by miracles and his inner spirit. Now nearing his 90th year Max, a love of life evident, is keeping his promise to his father to make sure the story of his people is told so that the souls that were lost during the Holocaust are ever forgotten.

“By Chance Alone” tells Eisen's story with raw emotion. Describing himself as a farm boy, Eisen's childhood was spent in Moldava, Czechoslovakia. During the early days of WWII Moldava was still peaceful, villagers were friendly with everyone. That changed after the Munich Agreement on September 30, 1938 when France, the UK and Italy signed annexed a portion of Czechoslovakia to Hungary. The area coined Sudetenland was quickly taken over and the lives of Czech Jews were placed in peril. Max's eyes glared as he spoke of the betrayal that took place on that day. “In France champagne flowed,” Eisen said angrily, “The UK said that the Agreement was breaking 'Peace in our time', they opened the flood gate for Hitler.”

As the ink dried the lives of Max's family changed forever. Gone were visits to his maternal grandparents' farm, where he and his cousins had spent peaceful summers. Now his family's belongings and livelihood were stripped away slowly for five years. His father and uncle were forced into labour camps far away. The family would be separated most of their remaining time together.

Max remembers the propaganda during his childhood left even himself questioning the evils of the Jewish people. The vile images on pamphlets increased the hate within Sudetenland so much so that when deportations came streets lined with people who believed that the Jews were evil.

Max lived through two deportations. The first was in 1942 with his aunt, mother and two younger brothers. It was the first time in his life that Max experienced hunger. Lasting just over two weeks the family was allowed to return home. Life was harder but they were home. A sister was born after the return. Looking back Max wishes his family had fled their home then but his grandfather was sure the war would end and they would be safe.

Two years later when his entire family was rounded up young Max knew that this deportation was different. The family was first sent to a ghetto in Kassa then to Auschwitz in cramped cattle cars. Max, his father and uncle were separated from his grandparents, mother and three siblings as soon as they arrived at the camp for the first selection process. One line meant life, the other death. By the time Max and the two older men arrived at the barracks they knew that the rest of his family had been killed. A bowl of watery soup, filthy clothes and flea infested mattresses was his new way of life. Max was just 15.

During the first weeks Max' father and uncle protected him as best they could. They worked side by side in their labour details. Max remembers how his father's advice and encouraging words gave him the strength to go on. When his father saw that their closeness was becoming to threaten his son during work details the older men were able to get other details to protect Max. Able now to only spend brief moments with the older men Max was on his own. Still his father did what he could. Once he smuggled Max a chunk of bacon that provided the extra protein needed. For days Max would eat a tiny piece of the meat in his bunk at night when no one was watching. His father and uncle were killed in July after one of the daily selections.

Shortly after their deaths, a guard hit Max in the back of the head with his rifle during a work detail. That should have been the last day of his life but the other prisons helped save him. He was taken to the camp hospital where he was tended to. The rules of the death camp were if a patient couldn't walk out of the hospital in three days they were killed. The doctor in charge however intervened giving Max a job within the surgery. For the next several months Max worked from morning until late at night in the hospital. That time saved his life. He had access to a little more food and clean bedding.

On January 18, 1945 Max and the surviving prisoners started the Death March from Auschwitz to Ebensee. In the bitter cold hundreds of men who had survived the horrors with the camp died as the Nazis marched their prisoners between the camps as the war was ending. Had it not been for his time working in the hospital it is very likely Max would have been one of the dead. Finally at Ebensee the war ended.

That's not the end of the story. Hatred and bigotry did not end with the war. Being allowed to come to Canada, where a new life would bring Max true happiness was not an easy process. “By Chance Alone' tells his story in gutting detail. Max' courage and power to survive springs forth with each word.

Today, nearing his 88th birthday Max shines with life. He is thankful for every day and the simple pleasures. “After what I have gone through everything is a blessing,” Max said with passion remembering a time when even a potato skin would have been an amazing find. It saddens him that there is still so much negative ideas about the Jewish people and that even today in Canada university students are being discriminated against.

After years as a successful business man Max started talking about his time in the camps. For the past 22 years he has educated thousands and takes part in the annual March of the Living events in Europe. He is a devoted husband, father and grandfather basking in the joy of his large second family. When he has some down time he enjoys reading, tinkering around the home he shares with his wife and travelling. But there is little down time. Max is keeping the last promise he made to his father, to keep the story alive.

His father would be proud.
 
 
There's always that one burning question asked of author Diane Schoemperlen; How could she fall in love with a killer! The answer is simple: She fell in love with the man, not the crime.

In her latest book “This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications” Schoemperlen delves into the very serious issues of the Canadian prison system, emotional abuse in a relationship and the recovery of oneself after a 'bad' relationship ends. Heartfelt and written with love the book slams into these issues with honestly, breaking the taboos that society can place on such topics. The reader travels Schoemperlen's journey to what for most is never witnessed, prison life for those who didn't commit a crime-the loved ones on the other side of the bars. Her words are raw, emotional and real. At times the reader questions how she could put up with her lover's behaviour while cheering her on as she comes to terms with the relationship and its end.

Schoemperlen spoke about that relationship at a Toronto coffee house in January after her book had been shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize. It is clear that she loved Shane and still does love him even though the relationship was toxic. “Just because it was a bad relationship doesn't mean I didn't love him,” Schoemperlen said with a smile. She knows that this sentiment is not something that is well received by some members of the public, after all there was the emotional abuse and this man was a murderer, but it's a truth that abused women deal with everyday. Love is the main reason women remain for so long in bad relationships and denying that love took place is taking away from a person's being. It's part of our cultural system of shaming the victim of abuse.

The main focus of Schoemperlen's memoir is the love relationship she and convicted killer Shane experienced. It was not a case of love of first sight. They met while at a food bank that both were volunteering at. While Diane knew that Shane was an inmate fairly early she had no idea that he was a convicted killer. Like most of the public Schoemperlen was unaware that in Canada prisoners, even those convicted of murder, can be working unguarded as they progress through the system.

Shane came along at a time in her life where he fit, but that fit came after a long internal debate within as Schoemperlen discovered that she was indeed in love with this man.

While in his 60s Shane had spent most of his adult life in the prison system, a world that does not relate to a normal life. In a very real sense inmates are treated like children, their every action is regulated from start to finish each day. This can result in a stalled maturity for those whose adult formative years are spent in the system. Schoemperlen saw this first hand with the frequent temper tantrums and emotional abuse that peppered her and Shane's relationship. In the end the abusive nature of their relationship ended it but it was not easy or quick.

The recovery process is not easy for those leaving abusive relationships. For Schoemperlen. counselling helped her deal with the issues within the relationship and rebuild her personal strength, that she was able to overcome and emerge stronger understanding how her own past paid a part in the relationship.

Schoemperlen wants to be clear she is not ashamed that she is a survivor of emotional abuse. She wants it to be known “that if you have been in an abusive relationship- in any sense of the word- you have nothing to be ashamed of. Shame hurts you by hiding the pain and the strength you have as a survivor. I will not be ashamed that I loved this man.”

During Schoemperlen's relationship with Shane she realized how little the average Canadian understands about the nation's prison system. Much of our common knowledge is incorrect, coloured by images from the media on television and movies. Those filmed versions of the criminal world are mostly from the United States, a completely different entity than the Canadian one. Shane educated Schoemperlen early to the differences of murder in the Canadian system. “Life really does mean life in Canada,” Schoemperlen stated. While an inmate sentenced to life in Canada may not spend their entire life in maximum security they are forever an inmate with serious restrictions placed upon them. First degree murder (on offence that was planned out and deliberate) carries a mandatory life sentence with eligibility for parole over 25 years. There are no early releases in Canada and parole is not a sure thing. In fact, the first parole hearings are rarely granted in favour of the inmate. Each progression in the system, from the security level of the prison to being granted day passes or release comes after a review and hearing has taken place.

Schoemperlen saw many changes within the prison system during the years that she was with Shane.

When Diane and Shane started dating Paul Martin was Prime Minister. At the time Shane was housed in minimum security at Frontenac (now known as Collins Bay Institution) in Kingston, Ontario. It was the largest urban farm in Canada with dairy, chicken, cattle, fruit and vegetable production. The farm provided jobs for inmates with skills that provided an increased likelihood for future employment. Shane was able to volunteer at Vinnie's, a soup kitchen run by the St. Vincent DE Paul Society and attend Sunday services at a Catholic church in the city. Visiting Shane at Frontenac was a pleasant experience, with friendly guards who joked with the inmates and their loved ones.

Just months later Martin was replaced by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper put in place much stricter regulation for Canada's prison system. Those changes have greatly impacted inmates with some negatives that make for a more violent atmosphere within the system.

Prisons in the Harper era became overcrowded and harsher. Schoemperlen saw first hand the stricter rules for visitors. While her son had visited Shane at one prison prior to Harper she advised him not to go along with other visits after Shane was sent back to prison following his release during their time together.

Gone are farm camps. Although the farms reduced the cost of running prison institutions by providing food and provided marketable skills for inmates when they left the system the programming was erased.

University level courses, something that Shane had taken prior to Harper's time in office, are no longer offered. Schoemperlen said the reasoning behind this rule is because inmates are not allowed Internet access which is how off campus courses are currently offered. While inmates can finish high school they can't take part in courses that would help them to achieve future employment.

As we were finishing our talk Diane shared that Shane has shared with her about his feelings of her book. “He loved the book,” Diane said with a bright smile, sharing that he had told her during a short phone conservation that he saw the love and the pain within her words.
“This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications” is an important book on many levels, from understanding the impact of emotional abuse in a relationship to the realities of prison life in Canada. Well written with a raw truth “This Is Not My Life” deserves a place in your home library.
 

 
Cultural Shock Is An Understatement: Conversation With Pumpkin Flowers Author Matti Friedman
 

 
When Matti Friedman moved from Toronto to Israel he thought he had landed on another planet.  He was 17 and he was leaving the world’s most diversity friendly city for a place that  was “so beyond the mindset of life in Toronto.”

“I was young enough to roll with the punches,” Friedman said of the move from his safe North York childhood home to the Middle East as we started to talk about the differences between North American and Middle Eastern culture and his current book Pumpkinflowers which has been shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction. “I liked the cultural shock. Israel is chaotic with its Middle Eastern culture.”

One of the most jarring differences between Canada and Israel is in the military draft. All young people in Israel serve in the military (3 years for males and 2 for females).  While Matti could have returned to Toronto after high school to avoid serving he wanted to become a full citizen of Israeli. 

His turn came up quickly. He received his call-up at the age of 19. “I did it voluntarily thinking that I would join the navy. I had visions of a Baywatch life in front of me.” That daydream was just that, a dream. He was put into the army where he was in for the shock of his life. “Toronto did not prepare me for life in the Army,” Matti laughed, “ It's very hard, both physically and emotionally. I was not ready. Today I am very proud of my service to my country.”

Sending his son off to battle was not easy for Matti's father, who grew up in the United States but did not serve during the Vietnam Era. “Of course my parents were worried about me being in the Army,” Matti explained but it is an integral of Israeli life.

The Toronto native wrote of his time in the Israeli military in Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier's Story. The book gives his and other soldiers' view army life in the military outpost called the Pumpkin.  It was built into the top of  a small hilltop in Lebanon — it had been the scene of bitter conflicts for decades. The fields around Pumpkin weren’t filled with the orange melons, Flowers is the code word  for military deaths in Israel and the Pumpkin was the hill where many young men became flowers -  dying in nameless battles barely remembered even though they took place just 20-years ago.  The area has been at war zone between Israel and Lebanon since the last century. There are no easy solutions and Matti doesn't believe the conflicts within the Middle East will be solved within his lifetime. 

After his time in the Army Matti travelled into Lebanon using his Canadian passport. It was a journey that his friends in Israel would not consider but Friedman was then and is still very much a Canadian. He writes about the emotional trip in his book bringing some of the most moving passages that stay with the reader.

The road trip was “a very Canadian thing to do” Matti said. He has fond memories of the adventure that without his unique upbringing could not have taken place. Because of his Canadian papers Matti was able to tread where fellow Israelis dare not go. There is tension between the cultures that vibrates with every step he took in a country whose soldiers had tried to kill a few short years before.

Friedman says the Israel that he knows is very diverse. While 20% of the population is Muslim there is no doubt that its a Jewish state. “Canada's diversity is completely different. The culture here is very complicated,” Friedman says adding that the differences are “not better or worse, they are just different.”

Matti says that Canadians are blessed with the way they approach diversity within their culture making it very hard for those in North America to “wrap their heads around some parts of the world, like the Middle East.” The conflicts of the Middle East have gone on for centuries, much longer than the entire culture of North America. The conflicts are not simple misunderstandings between the people that are worked out with a few sit down meetings. “It just doesn't work like that.” There is a breakdown between the States of the Middle East with extremist religions. Matti likens it to the ongoing battles in North America over the gun problems. Two sides each have very clear ideals and they are not going to sway from their point of view.

Today Matti is the father of four young children. I asked if he has fears of their lives being in danger because of terrorism. He pointed out that Jerusalem, where his family resides, is actually very safe. Roughly the same size and population as Indianapolis his city had a total of 18 violent deaths last year compared to 118 in the US city. Stating that there is very little gun violence or drug concern in Israel Matti does say that of course he is a little “worried about terrorism.” That worry though does not bleed over in teaching his children about diversity. One of his older children is studying Arabic in school and Muslim culture is all around the city. “I don't think the kids have hostilities towards Islam, they just live very separate lives.”

The winner of this year's RBC Taylor Prize will be announced at a gala luncheon and awards ceremony at the historic Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto on Monday, March 6th. 
 

 
Marc Raboy Talks Marconi
 

 
The rapid rise and steady growth of inventions and patents from Marconi forged the communication world that we live in today. One of the youngest of the early innovators to use sound waves in order to achieve wireless communication Marconi was just in his early 20s when he first blazed on the scene. Marconi's achievements are a marvel and yet the man himself has always been a mystery. In Marc Raboy's book 'Marconi' each aspect of the man's life is examined. Extremely well written this massive tome brings to life the legend of a great man of his time and shows the reader how his insights of wireless communication came to be.

The man that author Marc Raboy started to write about when he started the research for his RBC Taylor Prize shortlisted book Marconi is not the same man at all, he found. “I learnt a tremendous amount about the man and surprisingly about myself,” Raboy shared during a conversation late January at a coffee house in Toronto,“Marconi is important and the story of his life was worth doing.”

Many do not know who Marconi is. I was one, unable of the importance of the man who revolutionized long and short waves into a working model for communication. Some feel that he was a thief who stole the ideas and inventions of others. Raboy nodded as we discussed this, saying that there are many that are anti-Marconi and pro-Tesla. “Tesla himself though did not feel he was a thief,” Raboy said. Marconi never took sole credit for the original ideas, even acknowledging the inventors whose ideas he elaborated on. Marconi used those ideas for one process, to use the waves in the air as a means of communication. Communication by wireless means was his main focus throughout his life.

Much of Marconi's early success was due to being in the right place at the right time. He was able to parlay his place in society to several firsts including wireless communication when the Crown Prince of England was in a skiing accident. Marconi set up his system so that the prince was able to keep in touch with his mother the Queen during his recovery. Not only was it a score in achieving a media first it helped to cement a place for his company within the British government.

As a businessman Marconi was very wise in listening and following the advice of those around him. His father's sage wisdom lead him to keep his patents by leasing equipment instead of direct sales. He was able to obtain government contracts that allowed him to develop his vision even further.

Although Marconi was a devout Fascist he left nothing to the government in his will. All of his estate was split between his four children by marriage. Raboy has no doubt that he was devout to the cause but he believes that part of the reasoning behind this was Marconi's age and wanting to be settled down at that time in his life.

Discussing the many photographs that he had looked at that didn't make it into the book Raboy said Marconi always looked a bit sad and alone. That was not an image that his subject would have wanted to be in the public eye. Marconi guarded his image, making sure that who the public saw was exactly what he wanted. That has carried on even in his death. His youngest daughter Elettra, just seven-years-old when Marconi died, has devoted her life to keep a certain aura concerning her father. But honestly how much can a child of that young age truly remember of the man?

As Raboy dove into his research what he found was a man who lived a very interesting life. What makes him interesting according to Raboy it wasn't the social advantages that he had but the level of being “a common man. It's that level that I focused on. Things like why did his first romantic relationship disintegrate?” As Raboy discovered who Marconi was behind closed doors by researching those who knew him, letters and documents and conversations with his family members he found a man who was very complex and sadly, very lonely. “Honestly right now I know Marconi better than anyone else,” Raboy smiled.

What Raboy found was a complex man who never really fit into one box. He was Italian but also Irish. He was was an inventor of technology but used others' research to formulate his discoveries. He was of a high society class but felt most at him with his workers. He loved being in love but once he found love he had a hard time settling down and staying in one place. The public followed his every move but never really knew the man they were following.
 
 
Rage Infused Master
A Review of Ross King's Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the painting of The Water Lilies

By KJ Mullins

Growing older can be hard for everyone but for an artist aging can add to their challenges for creating art. That was the case for Monet. Author Ross King explored this in his recent book Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the painting of The Water Lilies, shortlisted for the 2017 RBC Charles Taylor Prize.

King took a break prior to the weekend of the RBC Charles Taylor Prize announcement to discuss Monet at Toronto's historic King Edward Hotel. Asked if Monet continued past his prime King said, “I don't think so. If we rewound back 90 years ago people would say yes, that he was a great painter, very important, his work through the 1890s and early 20th century was very good work but then he lost it. (Some would say) He stayed to long at his home staring in the abyss of his pond letting his eyes gradually deteriorate from cataracts and perhaps his mind as well, as he ceased to be part of Parisian life and living the life of a countryman digging in his garden and painting, that his last works were artistic failures, artistic mistakes.” Ross went on to say, “It's funny how the pendulum swings back and forth. After WWII people saw that his last works were much more adventurousness and than in 1927, a year after his death.”

Modern artists like Jackson Pollock who were doing huge canvases, coloured all over, brought a new light to Monet's final work bringing it back into the public eye.

King said that Monet painted his final paintings at a very different point in his life than he had been during his earlier work. Overcoming mental and physical challenges, losing both of his wives and one of his sons and many of his friends. He was the only one left of the Impressionist painters. “I think he was trying to make a statement about Impressionist-ism, that it was still relevant to the contemporary world and that he could still paint in his style.”

Monet was known for his temper during this period. Saying that he was a grouchy old man is putting it mildly. “You would think painting under a parasol in a garden painting a landscape that you, yourself had constructed, breaking for a lavish lunch, going back doing back to your work. Having friends come over. It seems like a perfect life.” His friends saw this as well, telling him that he had the best life a man could have. “He did have his sorrows but he was acclaimed. He was fabulously wealthy in his later life.” Despite his successes Monet did not always behave as a man satisfied with his successes because he was so demanding of himself. “He was bad tempered at the best of times, a bit of a Prima Donna; but at the worst of times, when painting wasn't going so well he would fly into terrible rages and physically attack his canvases. All writers, all artists have to edit their work but in the case of Monet he violently attacked his canvases.” Monet did know that he was not behaving well during these times. He would move out of his house staying in a hotel to spare his family the miseries of putting up with him. He was aware of his actions and would apologize for his behaviour but that didn't stop him from acting out.

The raw emotion is what makes an artist. Monet's friend Georges Clemenceau would tell him that he was a great artist because of these rages and to keep working himself up into a frenzy, keep having his tantrums. “I think there is some truth in that,” King reflected, “If he was happy just to do things that would just mediocre he could produce a lot of paintings to sell to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. He could have done so. But he wanted to do something more than that. The aiming of something more drove him crazy. It gnawed at his soul making him fly into these tremendous rages.”

Ross said that “in some ways you can almost feel guilty about appreciating the work of artists, someone you know that has suffered so much in their creating that has lead to your enjoyment. Reaping the benefits of someone else's suffering but on the other hand by enjoying it you are rewarding them because that is what they are doing it for. Not just to express themselves but to give humanity something else to contemplate.”

King has the germ of an idea for his next project but hasn't fully explored it due to work. He isn't sure if he's going to go modern or go back into the 14th century like DiVinci. Who ever he decides on will be a treat for his readers. Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the painting of The Water Lilies is a must for all art lovers to see the process of Monet's last work.

The winner of this year's RBC Taylor Prize will be announced at a gala luncheon and awards ceremony at the historic Omni King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto on Monday, March 6th.