I was surprised by the magnificence of the exhibit of the last years in the life of the painter Manet. I hadn’t realized that he died young after having a leg amputated for gangrene in 1883. The collection of his works exhibited here probes into the emotion and soul of the man who initially was not in the Impressionist group although he influenced them. He had his works rejected several times by the French academy and National exhibits and finally came into recognition shortly before his untimely earl death.
His paintings, often appearing incomplete, focusing on a central figure and leaving the
background unfinished or just a copy from another painting, are nevertheless very impressive and commanding one’s attention. Often showing the daily life in Paris, Manet was frequently scorned and rejected because of his subjects… prostitutes and common men and women, …he appealed to the avant garde Impressionists, writers and theatre people.
In the first salon we see a portrait of Manet painted by Fantin-Latour, depicting the
otherwise thought of iconoclastic painter as a rather formal, aristocratic character in top hat and stylistic coat and clothing.
Across the hall is the famous “Leisure Boating on the Seine”, Parisian “day trippers”
and the description of the painting casts a whole different appreciation of what is being shown. The man, with a straw boater hat and blue band indicating he is a member of a high class sailing club, swaggering, almost arrogant and looking away from the woman in the boat… with her open brushwork and fashionable hat and veil . We are in the boat with him; the boat abruptly cropped like a Japanese print which was in vogue at the time. No shoreline, no buildings or location apparent.
As I moved to the next paintings I stopped for a while at “The Café-Concert”…a slice of
life with a cabaret audience…older man with dapper dandy, mustache, goatee, monocle, hand on pommel of walking stick, working class girl with cigarette near but not attached, and the waitress who is draining a beer instead of doing her job…a cartoon like image of a performer on a stage. The painting comes alive as a moment in a crowded brasserie, a random slice of life.
Next I passed several portraits of women in daily chores, some lower class or as
suggested a prostitute waiting for a john, and then the next picture a very high class woman reading a newspaper in a garden. (We are told that the garden is a copy of a former painting added to the painting by the artist). Near these the artist had painted food on a table, oysters in one scene and a brioche in another, characteristic delicacies seen in a patisseries in Paris.
Then we move to a portrait of a famous actress playing Carmen, almost appearing as if
she was caught in a moment before leaving the scene. Feisty, dynamic attractive Carmen
captures the woman playing a role and playing a part in artistic fantasy.
In the portrait of Antonin Proust, born the same year as Manet, this seems to be a
moment in the man’s life, but in reality Manet spent a long time painting his close childhood friend. He appears as a stand in for Manet, self-assured gentleman, blue top-hat which he repainted 20 times, pink rose, fashionable dandy like Manet himself. Proust became a famous member of the art community and as minister of fine arts promoted Manet, who had been rejected for an award by the Salon, to Legion of Honor.
“Manet and his school use simple color, fresh or lightly laid on, and their results appear to have been attained at the first stroke”
STEPHANE MALLARME, POET AND CRITIC
Another room is entitled “Portraits of an Era” and depicts Manet’s self-conception as a
painter of modern life, from the chic Parisienne to the demimonde, “Woman with a Cat” on her lap (Madame Manet),… then a nude arranging her hair,… then a furry griffon dog named :BOB”,
Next a very intimate, painting of his wife apparently never intended for exhibition, only
partly completed, but careful consideration to her character and emotion, gentle expression, proper 19th century housewife, pianist, but yet a bohemian quality. Lace, flowers, femininity.
“Tormented by increasing pain and stiffness in his left leg, the artist withdrew to the spa town of Belleview, where he was lonely and bored”. He wrote many letters and filled the margins with watercolors of plums, cats, flowers, many of which are shown in this exhibit/
We are given an introduction to Manet’s use of pastels in a portrait of Julien de la
Rochenoire…Not a masculine setting, delicate and emotional, no details of profession, no tools of his trade or stodgy masculinity, twinkle of his eyes. Zigzagging whispering strokes. Next to this is another pastel portrait of Madame Jules Guillemet, one of his favorite models, supposedly embodying Parisian chic with fashion and accessories.
Another pastel shows “A woman with a Tub”, nude, even more so because she has her
stockings on, an interesting touch! Delicate but with no delicacy of place or person, bending over the tube, breasts and hair hanging down, devoid of personal privacy as we peek into her boudoir.
I am looking at a painting of Mr. Eugene Pertuiset, the Lion Hunter, a big game hunter and small time celebrity. This strange posed painting was criticized by critics but won Manet his only prize at the Salon, and the man depicted became one of the painter’s greatest admirers and collectors. A huge dead lion lies behind a tree with the hunter on one knee holding a rifle…a very unimpressive painting, almost comical in its artificiality and posiness.
Autumn and Spring were the only two paintings in the series he hoped for on the seasons. “Jeanne Demarcy Spring”. 1882 Salon represent chic, Parisienne youthful feminine beauty, not just a woman,… a bouquet, suede gloves, day dress, bonnet, hat, parasol, perfect snub nose. Manet now wanted to be known as the father of Impressionism.
“Autumn, Mery Laurent” was very severe and unimpressive. I guess I preferred the loveliness of Jeanne
Who was Jeanne?
Jeanne was a model for Manet who rose to prominence as the actress Madamoiselle
Demarcy..daughter of a bookbinder, born Ann Darlaud…and she was actually named in a book entitled “The Pretty Women of Paris”, a salacious guide to prostitutes for Englishmen!
A quote from Maurice Du Seigneur, a Salon Critic
Since we are speaking of living flowers, let me introduce you to Jeanne by Edouard
Manet. She is not a woman, she is a bouquet, a real perfume for the eyes. Manet’s defenders are delirious, his detractors stupefied, and Mlle. Jeanne strolls past them, proud and coquettish…with a winning air.
Several rooms are dedicated to Flowers, Fruit and Gardens. When he was in the last
painful years of life, crippled by the deteriorating left leg, he lived at Versailles and Rueil, unable to return to Paris. So Paris and the artists and writers and the café life came to him, often bringing flowers
“All it took to restore his good spirits was the sight of a flower. He’d
exclaim: “I’d like to paint them all”.” Antonin Proust
The watercolor “Irises” is delicate and apparently has layers of “wash” with many
dilutions to achieve the effect.. He painted many still life and included fruit such as the one “Peaches”, which we are told appears simple and spontaneous but in reality are modelled by fruit painted by the eighteenth century artist Jean Simeon Chardin-
I was struck by the charm and beauty of the oil painting “My Garden (the bench)’ a solitary bench and table completed in 1881 by the ailing Monet at Versailles. Although to the viewer it appears delectable with a blossoming garden, he hated his confinement and absence from Paris and at the end of the summer when the weather turned foul he dismissed the garden as “hideous!” I thought how much I would love sitting in that garden and writing.
In the last year of his life, still hoping for recovery, he lived in Rueil and painted an oil on
Canvas entitled “The House at Rueil”, and if one were to look at it without knowing his misery and pain, you would think of peace and tranquility in a beautiful garden surrounding a house. His suffering did not come through in his painting!