Friday 6 February 2015

Edouard Manet

We had an 'Impressionist' day in London two weeks ago, when we looked at paintings at the National Gallery and then moved on to the Courtauld.  I've decided to do some posts on specific artists as seen in both galleries, and will be posting them as and when.

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Manet was the painter of modern life par excellence.

Modernity in Paris was the result of Haussman's transformation of the city, following the brutal eviction of the working class from the centre. The result was wide boulevards, promenades, exhibition spaces and parks, which turned the city into a 'spectacle', a place to have outings, to see and to be seen. The city became an image. The distinction between private and public space got blurred and modernity took shape in the new public spaces where the bourgeoisie and the new petit bourgeoisie mingled. Leisure became a mass phenomenon and recreation took on increasingly spectacular forms: the parks, the races, the day out by the river, the café concert. It's this image that the Impressionists, and particularly Manet, set out to capture and present, and more specifically, they were fascinated by the people who used those open spaces.

The experience of 'seeing', rather than representing what one 'knew', took on paramount importance: 'I sought to render only my impression', said Manet. Wanting to give an impression of their subject matter, rather than representing it, coupled with their interest in colour and movement, they focused on the overall visual effect, ignoring detail. The picture plane became shallow, flattening out, almost two-dimensional: they abandoned the efforts of artists of previous generations, who had attempted to create the illusion of three-dimensional objects located in the two-dimensional space of the canvas. Flatness also signified modernity where the flat surface conjured up the two dimensions of posters, labels, fashion prints and photographs.

In his later years Manet abandoned his distinctive palette of blacks and greys and his art took on a new luminosity of colour and freer brushstrokes, influenced by Berthe Morisot. (Text taken from here )

At the National Gallery:

Corner of a Café-Concert, 1878-80

This work was originally the right half of a painting of the Brasserie de Reichstoffen in Paris, begun at about 1878 and cut in two by Manet before he completed it. A join where a new piece of canvas was added can be seen here in the man's blue smock. Manet subsequently repainted the background, adding the dancer, musicians and, on the left, a conductor's baton.

At the Courtauld:

Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil, 1874

This painting is probably Manet's deepest foray into open-air Impressionism. It was partly painted outdoors during a summer visit to Argenteuil on the outskirts of Paris, where he stayed with Claude Monet and his family. The latter's wife, Camille and son, Jean, posed for the figures on the riverbank. The rapid, short brushstrokes vividly evoke the ripples on the water and the bright colours convey the summer air.

Le Dejeuner sur L'Herbe, 1863-68
This is Manet's second version of a controversial composition he showed at an exhibition of works rejected by the official Paris Salon. It reworked the theme of a Renaissance painting he had seen in the Musee du Louvre, which represented female nudes listening to male musicians. Manet's painting was shocking because his pastoral idyll made deliberate references to contemporary life. The men wore modern clothing, and the naked woman was considered unattractive. As such, it seemed to mock academic 'high' art.
You can read more about this painting here .

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