Manet at Orsay Museum of Paris: Exhibition of Still-Lifes (as well as portraits)
From 11th October 2000 to 7th January 2001
See also the Orsay Museum's permanent exhibition and London's National Gallery.
Edouard Manet (1832-1883)
Whether treating a large composition such as "Déjeuner sur l'Herbe" or painting still-lifes, Manet was an unequaled virtuoso of color and composition. His achievement is the link in the chain that connects the Impressionists such as Claude Monet, with the Romantics headed by Delacroix, and Courbet's earthly Realism. His work questioned the established art by proposing a new way of treating the "old-master" subjects with an exaggeration that was interpreted as provocation by his contemporaries. He must have acquired the taste for parody and provocation during his trip to Spain, and through masters such as Velasques, Goya, Zurbaran and Murillo. The portrait of Berthe Morisot (1872: "Berthe Morisot au bouquet de violettes" now in Orsay Museum) has a Goya-like touch about it as well as the calligraphic virtuosity of Japanese prints. This masterpiece of portraiture shows his abandoning of theatrical scenes and artificial symbols for pure composition of light emerging from darkness from different surfaces and dimensions.
To see his advancement in art, compare this portrait with an earlier work, his 1863 "Déjeuner sur l'Herbe" which is a modern parody of Giorgione's "Concert Champêtre". Refused at the official Salon and exhibited in the Salon des Refusés, the monumental "Déjeuner" has all the theatrical attributes and added-on symbols such as the overturned basket of fruits, yet it also has many hidden statements such as the light and dazzling tones of the nude suggesting the enhancement of colors in outdoor painting as opposed to old-fashioned work concocted in an artist's atelier. This nude symbolizes the beauty of the naked "reality" as opposed to idealized and "dressed" conventional painting, and it underlines his spirit of independence and taste for provocation. But, to those who refused it at the Salon, the nude in this painting looked terribly naked in contrast to the two fully dressed men picnicking with her. Yet he impressed free spirits such as Claude Monet who came up with his own "Déjeuner sur l'Herbe" as a tacit hommage to Manet the free thinker Manet, the independent.
Another of his famous paintings of 1883 again a reference to an old master's painting (Giorgione or Titian) is Olympia. Whether he tried hard to please the 1865 Salon by the choice of old masterly subjects, or provoke it by the choice of a less innocent nude model than the Venetian references made even more provocative by the "bouquet" of flowers of the courtisan in the background that suggests the imminent arrival of a client the outcome was the same: scandal, refusal at the Salon, and the enthusiastic rallying of the younger generation speerheaded by Monet and the Impressionists.
But the 1866 "Fifer" was to reveal the real Manet. The absence of chiaroscuro, the use of flat colors, the use of black as color taking part in the composition peer-to-peer with the red, the plain background and the Japanese print element that strongly influenced the latter half of 19th century painting are what make this picture emblematic of his work and modern painting in general. The "little man who plays with all his heart" was characteristically refused at the 1866 Salon. Meanwhile, Zola wrote a favorable article in the "Evenement" saying that "Manet is one of the greatest painters living, and buying his paintings would prove to be a wise investment", but he was promptly sacked by the paper for his pains.
The "Waitress Serving Beer (La Serveuse de Bocks)" of 1879 almost an impressionist painting affirms his modernity with the sketchy figures suggesting life and movement; the juxtaposition of strong colors, and the lightened palette with black as a protagonist color make this painting an instantaneous flashback of a nostalgic film on the Parisian life in the Cabaret Reichshoffen on the Boulevard Rochechouart.
Under the influence of Berthe Morisot, his pupil and sister-in-law, he tried his hand at outdoor painting with "Young girl reading at the edge of the garden at Bellevue" of 1890. His sketching with oil is so close to some beach scenes by Monet in appearance, but the figure keeps it's solid traditional reference, not sharing the all-encompasing light of an Impressionist.
His still-lifes represent another important aspect of his work, especially flowers, fruit, and kitchen scenes after Chardin. Chardin's was a lesson in modesty; Chardin who "doesn't mix his colours: he connects, assembles, corrects and caresses them and makes each object carry the reflection of a nearby object without loosing its primary essence" (a free translation of a phrase in an article by the Goncourt brothers on Chardin). Chardin became the example for so many, but Manet was to become his closest pupil and "âme soeur". Manet's still-lifes were both a means of exercising from real life the way a musician keeps his fingers agile and his ear alert by playing over and over again and a poetic testimony to life: for sure Manet's roses "don't blush unseen". "You can say what you want with a still-life", he said, and how true this is even today when applied to photography.
The son of a high-ranking magistrate of the Justice Ministry, Manet (born in Paris in January 1832) attended the studio of Thomas Couture (1850-1856) after failing at the enterance examination of naval cadets during a trial voyage to Rio de Janeiro. He completed his six years of training as a painter in the Couture studio by studying the Louvre masters, and also with trips to Holland, Germany and Italy. Although his early paintings were strongly influenced by the Spanish masters, he visited Spain only in 1865. From 1881 which is the date of his first exhibition at the Salon, his life was punctuated by yearly submissions to the Salon, scandal and refusals. But he did manage to found the Société des aquafortists in 1862, and marry Suzanne Leenhoff in 1863. In 1867 Manet financed a building in avenue de l'Alma where 50 modern paintings were exhibited in reaction to the Exposition Universelle next door. In 1870 Manet became staff officer in the National Guard during the Franco-Prussian war. After trips to Holland and Venice he resorted to exhibiting his work in his own studio from 1876 onwards. In 1881, just two years before his death, recognition finally came when he was awarded the Légion d'Honneur.
Art Lovers' Paris