3. Impressionist Edouard Manet
and Influences (2) Early
History (3) Impressionist Edouard Manet (4) Impressionist
Impressionist Manet: "Father of Modernism"
His Maltreatment by the Salon
IMPRESSIONISM & PORTRAITS
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There is nothing arbitrary about so many people together; they are there in natural surroundings and at ease. However, there is no doubt it was painted in the studio, as was traditional. But progress is manifest, if we think of the great compositions of Courbet, in which the symbolic character of each figure is always dominant, admirably as they may be treated individually. For the first time, through Manet, we get a view of the whole of a society whose concrete appearance is translated by a pure perception. They are not individuals placed next to one another but the various articulated elements of a collective reality in which distinguishing factors are self-effacing and melt into the whole. In the "Old Musician" Manet still paints juxtaposition of figures - one might say walkers-on since they are a sort of stock model - each placed in a fixed pose and in its place, and moreover with a remarkable strength of individual presence.
I think that "Music in the Tuileries"
may be considered, before and much more rightly so than "Dejeuner
sur l'Herbe", as the first work of modern painting, that which
best illustrates what Malraux has so well defined as painting without
any other significance than the art of painting. In Manet's work there
appears for the first time a certain simultaneity of feelings (instead
of a fixed form of composition) and, in this submission to their strength,
a number of necessary deformations. Certain figures assume a disproportionate
scale and coloured masses abound. All that counts is the effect of the
whole. It is also a stock work in which so much detail, isolated and magnified,
is to become the basis for later paintings by Manet or even his friends,
Monet or Renoir,
who were to repeat this alignment of yellow and blue, or that silky garment
with black and white stripes.
This shows the exceptional relationship
of Manet in relation to his painter friends and explains their worship
of him, the reverence which they show towards him and, on his part, the
reserve for which he is sometimes reproached, for instance, when he remains
aloof from their exhibitions. He has a unique and indomitable physical
bearing despite his retiring nature. This manner is independent of his
painting activity; it rejects all theoretical activity and is only the
result of a form, a style of living, an elegance, a dandyism (recalling
Baudelaire), an urbaneness and a taste for debate not without extreme
susceptibility (he duelled furiously one day with his friend Duranty when
he thought he found some reservations in the latter's mind). He always
had a great curiosity, sometimes a sudden weariness. Mallarme was to write
later, trying to recall to mind a characteristic trait of the friend who
was no longer there. Manet also had a great simplicity, even naivety.
Mallarme referred to his" ingenuousness". He rejoiced at being
admitted to the Salon and wanted nothing else, just as Baudelaire thought
twice as strongly of canvassing his election to the French Academy. Neither
wanted to be the cause of a scandal and yet, as Georges Bataille quite
correctly writes, Manet was to become the chance instrument of metamorphosis.
The blow falls with the exhibition of "Music in the Tuileries" surrounded by Spanish paintings, at the Martinet Gallery in March and April of 1863. The real art critics and artists are not deceived. The young Monet, who at this time does not know its author, suffers a real shock. The Saul of Impressionism finds his road to Damascus. But reaction only really breaks out on 15 May in the same year when Manet exhibits "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" at the Salon des Refuses in the Palace of Industry, which the Emperor had generously allowed to be held because of the extreme conservatism of the French Academy in the form of the Salon jury. This hysteria was to last three or four years, renewed again at the Salon of 1865 by "Olympia," painted in 1863.
Today it is almost impossible to understand how these two paintings could have inspired such gross insults and such violent taking of sides. The arguments have been brought up so many times that we may dispense with reviving them again; they are of no interest in themselves, in their monotonous repetition, nor because of their authors, who are now completely forgotten. This violence can only barely be explained by a sort of diffuse realisation of the importance of Manet, of the role he was to play without knowing exactly what. It allows the rage of his enemies to be measured.
Among the pretexts which may have caused
it, I can see barely one, which Manet undoubtedly did not want, but which
resulted from the technique of contrasts which he had elaborated: the
nudes at the centre of the two paintings no longer have anything of the
conventional drawing school figures but, with their lewd whiteness, evoke
a sensation of undress which, placed in the surroundings of daily life,
profoundly stirred the hypocrisy of the period. (Let us recall the outraged
Empress slashing with her cane at the buxom nude in Courbet's "Source.")
These white colours today remain striking whereas their contemporaries
saw them as dirty.
Of the other painters of his age, Degas exhibits another of his great classical compositions, "Misfortunes of the City of Orleans," on which the eminent artist Puvis de Chavannes congratulates him. Cezanne has yet to properly emerge. Of the other Impressionist painters (ten years younger than Manet), the most important group, that of Monet, Sisley, Renoir and Bazille, have barely come out of the Gleyre studio and as yet have had little chance to show what they can do. It is there, however, that the succession is being prepared, thanks to supporters like Paul Durand-Ruel. For more, see: Best Impressionist Paintings.
NEXT: (4) Impressionist Claude Monet.
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