Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe by Édouard Manet

Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe by Edouard Manet (1863)

My Daily Art Display for today is the Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) by Édouard Manet which can be found in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

 Manet, who is acknowledged as one of the most famous artists from the second half of the nineteenth century, was born in Paris in 1832 to a wealthy and well connected family.   His father Auguste was a French judge and his mother, Eugénie-Desirée was the goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince.   Although his father expected Édouard to follow him into the judiciary his uncle encouraged him to become an artist.

Today’s painting is an intriguing one for many reasons and caused a stir over its alleged indecency when it was first exhibited in 1863 under the title Le Bain at the Salon des Refusés in Paris having been previously rejected for exhibition at the Paris Salon.  Here the presence of two fully clothed men with a naked woman scandalised some, whilst others found it humorous.   As with all controversies the perpetrator of a public controversy and outrage often becomes a cult hero and the same was true in this case as it made Manet a hero in the eyes of the young painters of the time and brought together in his support the group from which the Impressionists emerged.

Raimondi engraving Judgement of Paris

In the foreground of the picture is a basket of fruit which lies on the lady’s blue dress and seems to take as much importance as the main characters but shows Manet’s skill has a still-life painter.   The main characters in the painting were two fully clothed males and a nude woman looking directly out at us with a relaxed air and with little sign of embarrassment.     Manet must have known this would be controversial.  The subject of the painting was possibly borrowed from Titian/Giorgione’s Concert Champêtre and the posture of the male figure on the right hand side closely resembles that of a reclining figure in Raimondi’s engraving Judgement of Paris.   Whether he cared or not is a moot point as recently his father had died leaving him a substantial inheritance and he no longer needed commercial viability for his works of art.  The female in the painting was Manet’s favourite model Victorine Meurend and her two male companions in the scene were his younger brother Eugène Manet and his brother-in-law Ferdinand Leenhof. 

At the time, the painting style itself also brought about critical comments in some quarters.  There was no transition between the light and dark elements of the picture.  Gone were the subtle gradations and in their place was a brutal disparity of colour.  Depth and perspective seem to be lacking.  Look at the size of the woman standing in the water in the background in comparison to the rowing boat seen to the right of her.   Was this deliberate or was it just Manet’s refusal to conform to convention?

 Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?   If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.