A Bar at the Folies Bergère by Édouard Manet

A Bar at the Folies Bergère byÉdouard Manet

Yesterday I looked at a painting by the Belgian artist Antoine Wiertz and bemoaned the fact that although I could discover facts about the artist himself, I could find little information about the featured work of art.  I have no such problem with today’s featured painting, A Bar of the Folies Bergère by Édouard Manet.  Much has been written about this enigmatic painting.  This will be the fourth occasion that I have featured one of Manet’s works and so I will not repeat his life story which you can find in my previous blogs (October 11th and 12th and November 9th).  Today in My Daily Art Display I want to simply concentrate on the painting itself.

As I have mentioned on a number of occasions previously, I believe that when you have a limited time in a town and you want to visit an art gallery it is sometimes better to go to a smaller one rather than rushing around a large establishment trying to see everything and failing miserably.  Today’s painting hangs in the Courtauld Gallery in London which in comparison to the National Gallery or the Tate Galleries is somewhat smaller but what its collection lacks in quantity really comes into its own when it comes to quality.   I first visited the Courtauld Gallery when I went to see Cezanne’s Card Players exhibition after which I decided to spend a few hours taking in the gallery’s permanent collection and it was then that I came across this fascinating and famous work by Manet.

The Folies Bergère, as most people know, is a famous Parisian night-club situated in the 9th Arrondissement of Paris, not far from the heart of the post-Haussmann cultural centre of Paris, south of Montmartre, and a little east of the boulevard des Italiens (known simply as The Boulevard).  The venue is located at 32 rue Richer, the same place that once housed a department store called ‘In the Pillars of Hercules’ .   After almost four years, the departmental store went out of business and so in 1867 it was decided that the store should be replaced a public auditorium.  The construction lasted for almost two years and it was the first music-hall to be opened in Paris.   It was based upon an imitation of the Alhambra in London, a music hall known and much-loved for broad comedy, opera, ballet and circus.  It opened in May 1869, a year before the start of the Franco-Prussian War, and is still in business today.  It was originally called the Folies Trévise because it was on the corner of the rue Richer and the rue Trévise but the name was changed in September 1872 because the Duc de Trévise would not allow his name to be brought into such potential notoriety. As the rue Bergère, a road named after a master dyer, was just a couple of blocks away, the decision was made to rename the establishment as the Folies Bergère.  A Folies-Bergère show typically included ballet, acrobatics, pantomime, operetta, animal acts, and many included spectacular special effects. However, the Folies-Bergère was perhaps more well-known for its sensual allures.  It became chic to be seen at the Folies Bergere, so aristocrats and royal families alike came from all over the European continent to claim their coveted seats at the Folies.  Manet’s picture features his friends, both artists and models and was the kind of trendy place in which he spent his evenings.  The painting we see before us was the last great work of art painted by Édouard Manet and was completed in 1882.  At the time Manet was suffering badly from a debilitating disease, brought on by untreated syphilis,  which he was to die from the following year.

So what are we looking at?  The woman in the painting is Suzon a waitress at the establishment, who posed for the picture in Manet’s studio.  When I first glanced at the painting I thought I was simply looking at a woman standing behind a marble-topped bar and behind her were a large throng of people who were enjoying a meal whilst watching the entertainment but in fact what we are looking at is the woman standing between us and a large mirrored wall, the bottom of its gold frame can be seen running the full width of the painting, and it reflects what is actually going on behind us as we stand at the bar.  The young woman, who rests her hands on the counter, wears a greyish blue skirt and a dark velvet jacket with a low-cut lacy collar and has a corsage of pink flowers at her breast.  She has blonde hair which is tied back and wears two small drop-earrings and a gold bangle on the wrist of her right hand. The woman before us is not looked upon as a just a simple bar tender but more than likely falls into the category of a demimondaine.  A demimondaine was a term used to describe a professional mistress who sold her company, affections and body in exchange for being maintained by a patron in a long term relationship.  Later the word became a euphemism for a courtesan or prostitute.  Some art historians have interpreted the main aspect of the painting, the woman, as not only the seller of the bottled products we see on the counter before her but possibly the seller of her own body.

Now cast your eyes to the right of the woman and we see the reflection of the woman, or do we?.  Should we simply believe that we are looking at a mirrored reflection of her?  If Manet has simply drawn her mirrored reflelection, how could it be, as if the mirror is parallel with the plane of the painting then the reflection of the woman should be directly behind her and thus out of our line of sight.    In the painting the waitress stands before us, upright and is looking directly out at us and yet the reflection of her as depicted in the painting has her bent over slightly turned sideways as she talks to a gentleman with a moustache and wearing a top hat.    Something is not right.  Many believe that in actuality Manet had not meant it to be a true mirrored reflection of the back of the woman but the image of the woman at another time in her life.  Maybe Manet wanted it to be a depiction of what she is thinking as she looks into our eyes.  Maybe she is dreaming of meeting her gentleman lover or remembering the intimate time when they last met.  In Jeffrey Meyers book Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassatt, he describes the intentional play on perspective and the apparent violation of the operations of mirrors:

 “Behind her, and extending for the entire length of the four-and-a-quarter-foot painting, is the gold frame of an enormous mirror. The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty has called a mirror ‘the instrument of a universal magic that changes things into spectacles, spectacles into things, me into others, and others into me.’ We, the viewers, stand opposite the barmaid on the other side of the counter and, looking at the reflection in the mirror, see exactly what she sees. Her own reflection, however, is not directly behind her, according to the strict rules of perspective, but at a right angle to where she’s standing. It seems to reveal her long hair, cheek, collar and back as she serves and chats to male customer. A critic has noted that Manet’s ‘preliminary study shows her placed off to the right, whereas in the finished canvas she is very much the centre of attention.’ Though Manet shifted her from the right to the center, he kept her reflection on the right. Seen in the mirror, she seems engaged with a customer; in full face, she’s self-protectively withdrawn and remote.”

Preliminary sketch

In an early preparatory sketch for this painting Manet placed the woman to the right of the picture and then her reflection in the mirror seems more realistic.

Suzon

The woman intrigues me.  I look at her and try and interpret her expression and by doing so, I  may be able to build up a picture of her existence.  How would you describe her expression?  Is it one of unhappiness, one of disappointment, maybe one of nervousness?  Her mind seems somewhere other than with us.  Her cheeks are flushed.  Is it simply due to the heat of the theatre or maybe it is a sign of extreme weariness.  In some ways she has a look of innocence but her reflected image talking to a customer or client belays that thought.  So in a way, maybe we are being asked to decide who the real woman is; the one who innocently looks out at us or the one who could well be negotiating the sale of herself?

Look at the bar which separates us from the woman.  On it we see a glass bowl containing oranges or mandarins, a small glass with two flowers in which we see a partial reflection of the woman’s corsage and an array of bottles of unopened champagne.  Critics have also pointed out that the mirror does not correctly reflect the bottles on the counter in type or quantity.  However more interestingly, note the bottles with the red triangle on the label. 

Bass Pale Ale

This was not a French product but Bass, a well known brand of English beer which was established in Burton on Trent by William Bass in 1777 and still can be bought today.  The inclusion of these bottles in the painting, which in present day terminology would be called product-placement, signifies the varied clientele. Members of the Jockey Club and English bookmakers used to congregate every evening at the Folie-Bergère bars and Bass beer was brought in especially for them.   Another interesting detail about the bottles on the counter is that the artist himself has signed his name “Manet 1852”on the label of the bottle containing the red liquid, on the far left.

The reflected background shows the interior of the theatre with its gilded balcony front and its large chandeliers hanging down from the high ceiling.  It is a glittering scene depicting a sensuous world of pleasure.  Round electric lights can be seen on the pillars which must have been in themselves a novelty as this type of lighting had only just come into being.  Look to the upper left corner of the painting and you can just make out a swing and a pair of small green-booted feet which belong to the trapeze artist who is poised aloft on a swing, performing for the theatregoers.

The installation of the painting at the Getty Centre exhibition (2007)

When this painting was lent out to the Getty Center in 2007 a mirror was installed to help dramatize the questions of vision and reflection raised by Manet’s painting.  The painting raises so many questions and as Manet is not with us to explain his work, one can only guess at the answers.  So I will leave you to ponder these points:

How would you describe the barmaid’s vacant expression, one of remorse, one close to tears ?

What had Manet in mind when he painted the off-set reflection of Suzon and why did he position her at the centre of the painting whereas in an early preparatory sketch she is to the right of the painting and the mirrored reflection of her seems more real?

The reflection shows a man talking to Suzon but why is he not shown on the side of the bar where we are standing?

We are standing on a balcony walkway in front of the bar and yet it is not shown in the mirrored reflection, why?

The marble bar top on which Suzon rests her hands stretches the full width of the painting and yet the reflected image of the of the bar top does not, why?

This is a truly intriguing painting and the next time you are in London you should make time to visit the Courtauld Gallery and stand in front of Suzon and see what you make of the painting.

The Railway by Édouard Manet

The Railway by Édouard Manet (1872)

During Édouard Manet’s life he was great friends with the writer Charles Beaudelaire, the French poet, philosopher and art critic, and from around 1855 they became constant companions with the two of them frequently going off on sketching trips.   It was an important friendship for Manet, as during the times his work was being harshly criticised, Beaudelaire was very supportive of him.  Lois Hyslop the American author and Beaudelaire specialist wrote about this supportive role in her 1980 book Beaudelaire, Man of His Time, and she quoted his comments with regards Manet:

“…Manet has great talent, a talent which will stand the test of time. But he has a weak character. He seems to me crushed and stunned by shock…”

Beaudelaire believed in modernité in art and in his book, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, he stressed the importance of it saying that it was very important that art must be held accountable to capture the modern experience.  He wrote:

“…By modernity I mean the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent which make up one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immutable…”

His advice to Manet was that his art should depict a contemporary realism and that Manet should become le peintre de la vie moderne .

Today I am returning to the French artist Édouard Manet and looking at another of his paintings.   It is a painting of modern life and modern Paris and would no doubt have pleased his friend, Beaudelaire.  The painting is simply entitled The Railway which he started in 1872 and completed the following year.  It now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. This was the only painting by Manet that was accepted by the Salon jury for their 1874 exhibition.  In some ways it is an unusual painting and we struggle to understand what it is all about and Manet never revealed his thoughts behind the work.  So let us take a look at the image and see if we can understand Manet’s thought process as he put brush to canvas.

Gare Saint Lazare and Pont de l'Europe (c.1868)

To start on this journey of exploration I suppose we need to say what we see.  Let us first let us take in the setting of the scene.  It is an urban landscape of Paris in the late 19th century.  Why did Manet choose this scene and what was its significance?  This was the area around the newly built Gare Saint Nazare which was completed in 1837 and this area, along with the Pont de l’Europe, which straddled the railway tracks was an area of unparalleled importance for representing the changing face of modern life in Paris brought about by the redevelopment scheme of Baron Haussmann.   It was an area which was depicted many times by the Impressionist artists like Monet, Caillebotte and Jean Beruad.  The view we see is from the garden of the rue de Rome apartment house of Manet’s artist friend Alphonse Hirsch.  The painting is almost dominated by the black metal railings which boldly run the full width of the painting, creating a foreground and a background to the work and at the same time and in some ways acts to force the two females out towards us.  The black railings form a hard, lattice-work and it is in contrast to the pure white steam behind it.  There is an abundance of contrast in this painting with its sharp edges and soft dissolves. The small girl, with her back to us, almost seems as if she is using the railings as stage curtains which she draws open to get a better view of the rail tracks and the feverish movement of the trains below.  In contrast, the older female just leans back against them and shows little interest in what is happening behind her.  She has seen it all before.  To the right, on the other side of the railings, low down we can see a signal box, above which we can just make out a white pillar which is part of the Pont de l’Europe, which was inaugurated in 1868.  The Saint-Lazare station, which is out of picture, is further to the right.

Across from the railway tracks and in the background on the upper left of the painting, just behind the woman’s head, we see the buildings on the rue de Saint-Pétersbourg and the probable reason for this inclusion is we are actually looking at the door and window  of 4 rue de Saint-Pétersbourg , which was formerly a fencing hall, but from 1872 to 1878, it was Manet’s studio.  Most of the central background behind the railings has been masked by a cloud of steam and smoke which has wafted upwards from a passing locomotive and now hangs in the air.

On our side of the railings and close up to us we have the life sized figures of a young women and a young girl.  We are connected to them by their nearness, but is there a connection between the two of them?  Are they mother and daughter, or sisters, or governess and charge?  I think at this early stage in our investigation we have hit a brick wall as there is nothing to tell us about this relationship.  However there is certain disconnect between the two.  They face in different directions, almost a Janus-like scenario.

The woman wears a long dark blue dress with large round white buttons and full lace cuffs.  Cradled in her lap we see a small dog, which is often termed due to its size, a lap dog.  She is holding an opened book which she has been reading and tucked partly under her right arm is a closed fan.  Her long hair which is auburn in colour hangs loosely down and rests on her shoulders.  The lack of styling to her hair gives me to believe that she may be just out of her teenage years and yet, the covering of her arms, unlike the young girl next to her,  would indicate a sense of decorum attributable to adulthood.  On top of her head she wears a tall bonnet crested with a floral design.  For jewellery she has gold-like earrings and a bracelet and wears a thin black ribbon around her neck.   She stares thoughtfully out at us.  It is an ambiguous unwavering  stare and in some ways a similar look to the one the lady gave us in Manet’s painting Olympia.  Is she trying to engage with us?

The model Manet used for this depiction is once again Victorine Louise Meurent, a painter and famous artist’s model.  We have seen her before in Manet’s controversial masterpieces, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) which I featured in My Daily Art Display of August 2nd and Olympia (My Daily Art Display Oct 12th).  This was to be her last sitting for Manet  for it was around this time that she started taking painting lessons.  She wanted to concentrate on an academic style of painting which was anathema to Manet and their relationship fell apart.

Let us now look at the young girl.  The model used for this young girl was the daughter of Albert Hirsch, Manet’s friend.   She has her back to us and we see her peering between the railings at the activity below – the passing of a steam train.  It is somewhat strange that her right arm and shoulder are missing which is in direct contrast to her left arm which is stretched outwards as her hand grips the black metal railing.  Her attire reinforces her young age as we see she is not condemned by late 19th century convention to have long sleeves to her dress.  Her bluish/silver dress with the large bow is depicted in an unusual fashion.  It balloons outwards which either means a rush of upward air has caused it to billow or she has retained what is termed “puppy fat”.  Her hairstyle belies her age as it is swept up in an adult fashion and tied by a similar black ribbon worn by the woman.

So what did the critics make of Manet’s painting which was his largest en plein air work,  up until then, that he ever painted measuring 93cms x 114cms.  Alas once again a hostile reception from the critics greeted Manet’s work.  One said the painting should be renamed:

Two sufferers from incurable Manet-mania watch the cars go by, through the bars of a madhouse

Those who visited the exhibition were baffled by the work.  Critics said that the painting was incoherent and the painting quality was poor.  Unfortunately, few failed to recognise that this was a painting which symbolised modernity.  His friend Beaudelaire would have been proud of him but alas he died seven years before the painting was exhibited.

Olympia by Édouard Manet

Olympia by Édouard Manet (1863)

My Daily Art Display today continues with the life of Édouard Manet.  Yesterday we had reached 1864 the year when he exhibited his work entitled The Dead Christ with Angels at the Paris Salon and for which he was heavily criticised.  So did Manet, after the criticism and ridicule of his 1864 painting, submit a less contentious work the following season in 1865?  The answer is simply a resounding NO.  He entered two paintings into the 1865 Salon and in fact one of the paintings entitled Olympia, was one he had completed two years earlier and it was this one which caused an even greater furore with both the public and critics alike. The fact that Manet had completed the painting two years earlier but had not exhibited it makes one wonder whether Manet himself had doubts about the wisdom of launching such a contentious painting on the Parisian public.  His concern was well founded as it was considered the most shocking of all the works exhibited that year.  Olympia by Manet is My Daily Art Display featured painting today.

Before us we see an almost nude woman lying on a bed with a pink orchid tucked behind her left ear.    At the end of the bed, by the naked woman’s feet, we can just make out a small black cat.  In fact the inclusion of the small furry animal often had people naming the painting, Venus with a Cat.  The model for the painting was Victorine Meurent.  Victorine was also, besides being a famous model for painters,  an artist in her own right and one who exhibited a number of works at the prestigious Paris Salon.  Ironically in 1876, one of her paintings was included in the Salon’s juried exhibition (exhibitions at which the works of art are only displayed if selected by a jury) and the painting which Manet put forward for selection was rejected.

The subject of the oil on canvas painting caused a sensation.  So what shocked the critics?  Was it the nudity?  If that was the case, then why, as surely paintings of nudes were quite common at that time.   The problem was not the nudity but the fact that the critics believed the naked woman that Manet had depicted could be identified as a demi-mondaine.  These were ladies who had a reputation of enjoying an extravagant lifestyle of fine food and clothes, all of which had been achieved because of the steady income they made in cash and gifts from their various lovers.   In other words she was identified as a high-class prostitute and the Parisian public was very uncomfortable with the scale of prostitution in their city. 

Venus of Urbino by Titian

There can be no doubt that Manet’s inspiration for this painting came from Titian’s Venus of Urbino and Giorgione’s Sleeping (Dresden) Venus (see My Daily Art Display for Feb 15th).  Maybe Manet wanted to update and be more innovative with his “Olympia”.   Not all critics condemned his effort.  A few praised him for his “bold step into modernism”.  However there are differences in the way Manet has portrayed his woman in comparison with Titian’s Venus and it is these differences which led to the outcry.

Sleeping (Dresden) Venus by Giorgione

The contention that Manet’s woman was merely a high class prostitute was brought about by the way she wore an orchid in her hair, her pearl earrings, her bracelet, and her expensive oriental shawl on which her body rests,  all of which gave rise to the belief that her wealth was gained from the “service” she offered her lovers.  Her skin is bright white in colour and there is a severe shift from light to shadow in this painting.  Look how she stares towards us with her black eyes.  This is not a demure gaze.  It is a challenging, contemptuous and provoking look, in some ways daring us to find fault with her appearance.  Her hand is placed over her vulva and in a way she is saying that this is only to be had by the men she chooses.  It is in some way a signal that she will choose who she will bed.  Around her neck she wears a narrow black ribbon which when contrasted with the paleness of her neck adds sensuality to her pose.  Her upswept hair held in place by the orchid adds to the eroticism.  Her slipper is half on and half off her foot in a slovenly fashion. 

Her black servant, Laure, stands by her side.  She is attired in the typical fashion servants of a courtesan would dress.  She is holding a bouquet of flowers which the naked woman seems to ignore.  They are probably a gift from a lover who may have just arrived.   Maybe her eyes are not on us but on the door through which her lover is about to emerge.

As I said earlier we have the strange black cat sitting on the end of the bed.  In Titian’s Venus of Urbino he had included a dog which symbolized fidelity and added a kind of gentility to the scene.  Manet would have none of this sentimentality and added his black cat which because of its habits was taken as a symbol of laziness, lust and prostitution.  A coincidence?  Or did Manet know exactly what he was doing when he include the animal in his painting?

The painting when exhibited was one which the observer either loved or hated.  There were no half-measures.  The painting could not be ignored.  The critics labeled it immoral and vulgar and his friend Antonin Beaudelaire commented that the picture had created such anger that it was in danger of being destroyed by an over-zealous and offended observer.  In 1890 the French government acquired the painting with a public subscription, which had been organized by Claude Monet, and it now hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

 I will let you decide whether what you see before you is Venus, an old-style Titian-like goddess or a nineteenth century Venus whose name was Olympia.   Maybe you prefer to simply believe Manet has depicted a high class prostitute awaiting her next client but whatever you decide I think you will agree that it is a fine work of art.

The Dead Christ with Angels by Édouard Manet

The Dead Christ with Angels by Édouard Manet (1864)

Today, My Daily Art Display returns to the French painter of contemporary urban life and who was a leading figure in the shift from Realism to Impressionism and was looked upon as one of the founding fathers of Modernism.  So many –“isms” !   We have seen examples of these three -isms before but let me just do a recap of the meaning of these terms.

Realism was prevalent in the mid to late nineteenth century and this movement believed that painters should represent the world exactly as it was, even if it was at the expense of some artistic and social principles.  It was looked upon at the time as very controversial and often the works were viewed as being morally wrong and wicked because they challenged and broke the conventional standards of what was termed “good taste”.

Impressionism had its origins in France between 1860 and 1900 and soon spread to other western countries.   In a way it was, in some ways, a rejection of Academicism which promoted the Classical ideals of beauty and artistic perfection and which had a stringent hierarchy within the visual arts favouring the grand narrative and historical paintings.  The Impressionist painters and Impressionism wanted nothing to do with such Academic traditions but preferred to emphasise an accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities and looking how light changed with the time of day.  They would often paint outdoors (en plein air).   The Impressionist style of painting can be typified by its attention on the common impression produced by a scene or object and the way the artists tended to use unmixed primary colors and small brushstrokes in order to imitate real reflected light.

Finally Modernism, which was a very broad movement that also began around the latter years of the nineteenth century, and was a type of art that reflected modern times and did not keep looking back at times past.  The Modernist artists believed that the modern world they lived in was fundamentally different to what had gone before and that art needed renew itself and move on.  It was all about the artist’s vision of the future.

My featured artist today is Édouard Manet.  He was born in Paris in 1832 and was brought up in a wealthy, upper class household.  He was the eldest son of Auguste Manet, a judge and the Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Justice and Eugénie-Desirée Fournier, the daughter of a diplomat and goddaughter of Charles Bernadotte, the Swedish crown prince.  His father had hoped that young Édouard would follow him into the legal profession.  However even though he was well educated, Manet did not particularly shine academically but he did show a predisposition toward drawing and the arts.  In 1844, aged twelve years old, he enrolled at the College Rollin, a secondary school where he became friends with Antonin Proust, who would, in the future, become the French Minister of Fine Arts.   It was also around this time that Manet’s uncle, Charles Fournier, encouraged his enjoyment of the arts and the two of them along with Antonin Proust, would go on trips to the Louvre.

Manet had set his heart on going to sea and twice sat the entrance exam to a naval training school but in both cases failed.  He did however manage, with help from his father, to get a trip on the training ship Guadeloupe voyaging to Rio in 1848 and returning home in June the following year.   His father had by this time given up any hope of his son entering the legal profession and acquiesced to his son’s desire to become an artist.   For a six-year period, beginning in1850, Manet studies in the studios of Thomas Couture the Academic and History painter.  His relationship with his master was very strained and they would frequently clash.  It was around this time that he registers as a copyist at the Louvre and studies the works of the old masters, such as Velazquez and Goya.  Although impressed with their paintings, he believed that his works should reflect the ideas and ideals of the present time and not like theirs, keep harking back to the past.   Manet was a great friend and constant companion of Charles Beaudelaire, the great poet and art critic who was credited with coining the term modernité to designate the brief short-lived experience of life in an urban metropolis and he believed that art must be held accountable to capture the experience.  His advice to Manet about his art was that he should depict a contemporary realism, and had to become “le peintre de la vie moderne.

The year 1852 was the start of a change for Paris and Parisiennes as the great modernization of the city started on the direct orders of Napoleon III, under the supervision of Baron Georges- Eugène Haussmann.  The infrastructure often going back to medieval times had become inadequate, roads were too narrow and buildings were becoming unsafe.  In the great renovation programme, streets were widened and lengthened, houses pulled down to make way for new ones, shop fronts replaced.  All this work was labour-intensive and thousands of jobs were created people poured into the city from the outlying countryside to gain employment.  The whole of the social and cultural life of Paris changed with such a migration of labour.  Paris became one of the most beautiful and culturally progressive cities in the world and it was this modernity that Manet wanted to record in his works of art.

I will leave Manet’s biography at this point in his life and will conclude it in a later blog but for today I want to look at one of his earlier paintings entitled The Dead Christ with Angels, which he completed in 1864 and which can now be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  This was the first of a number of paintings by Manet that had religious subject matter. The biennial and later, annual Parisian Salons were considered the most expedient way for an artist to make himself known to the public, and Manet submitted paintings to Salon juries throughout his career.  He submitted today’s featured painting in 1864 exhibition.

The inscription indicates Manet’s source, but the passage he cited describes Mary Magdalene finding Christ’s tomb empty except for the two angels whereas his painting shows the two angels with Christ.  If that wasn’t bad enough Manet realised, albeit too late, when the painting was already on its way to the 1864 Salon Exhibition that he had made an even greater mistake with regards the accuracy of the biblical tale he had depicted.   Can you spot it?

In his painting he has painted the wound on the left side of Christ and not, as convention would have it, on his right side.   He immediately contacted his friend Baudelaire and told him of this error, and his friend advised him to correct the position of the wound in the painting before the exhibition opening.  He warned Manet that if he didn’t then his critics would have a field day, adding, “take care not to give the malicious something to laugh at.”   Manet’s submissions to the Salon of 1864 were again condemned by critics, for his painting of Christ and the Angels as they put it showed “a lack of decorum”.   The critics further denounced the work for its realistic touches, such as the cadaverous body of Christ and the seemingly human angels.  They argued that the painting totally lacked any sense of spirituality; the figure of the battered Christ was said to more closely resemble the body of a dead coal miner than the son of God.

Manet did not repaint the wound, and as Beaudelaire had foreseen, the critics derided his error. Only the writer, Émile Zola, gave the painting the respect it deserved.  Zola felt that Manet’s intention was to emphasize the reality of the corpse, even though he called attention to its holiness by including a halo.

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.