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4.0 out of 5 stars An exhibition with a slight whiff of a curate's egg, 7 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Manet: Portraying Life (Hardcover)
This is the catalogue for an exhibition, "Manet: Portraying Life" that was held at the Toledo Museum of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2012-13. It was one of the latter year's `blockbuster' exhibitions in London. It has been said that most of the artist's paintings are portraits since he required a model to work from. The resulting figures were then positioned on the canvas within background landscapes and settings envisaged by the artist so as to produce a work that may be erroneously identified as a genre painting.

After a Foreword, Sponsor's Preface and Acknowledgements, six essays address the artist, his time and his influences: "Manet: Portraying Life. Themes and Variations", by MaryAnne Stevens, "Théophile Gautier, Militant of Modernity", Stéphane Guégan, "Manet at the Intersection of Portraits and Personalities", Carol M. Armstrong, "'L'Esprit de l'atelier': Manet's Late Portraits of Women, 1878-1883", Leah Lehmbeck, "Manet and Renoir: An Unexamined Dialogue", Colin R. Bailey and "Manet and Hals: Two Geniuses, One Vision", Lawrence W. Nichols.

The catalogue of 62 works is divided into five sections on "The Artist and His Family", "Artists", "Men of Letters and Figures of the Stage", "The Status Portrait" and "Models", each being introduced by MaryAnne Stevens. The illustrated Chronology was developed by Sarah Lea and MaryAnne Stevens and Leah Lehmbeck produced the Catalogue Entries. The book ends with a Bibliography, List of Lenders to the Exhibition and an Index. In all, the book includes 88 figures, including a number of photographs of the artist. I share the opinion of an earlier reviewer that reproducing larger paintings over facing pages does not enhance appreciation. I did not find the overall quality of the reproductions unsatisfactory but agree that it could be improved, especially given the reputation of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Because of Manet's use of professional models, friends and acquaintances, many of the works in this exhibition are well known, including "Boy Blowing Bubbles", 1867, "The Luncheon", 1868, "Eva Gonzalez", 1870, "Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets", 1872, a detail of which is on the front cover, "Music in the Tuileries Gardens", 1862, considered by some to be the first truly modern painting, "Emil Zola", 1868, "The Railway", 1873, "The Monet Family in their Garden at Argenteuil", 1874, and his most (in)famous painting, "Déjeuner sur l'herbe", c. 1863-68, which features a composite portrait of two of his younger brothers, Eugène and Gustave, the sculptor, Ferdinand Leenhoff, with Victorine Meurent, his favourite model who also sat for "The Railway" and "Olympia", not included in the exhibition, being the nude responsible for the outcry amongst critics and the viewing public.

When "The Railway' was shown at the Salon in1874, an angry critic wondered whether it was a double portrait or a genre picture, and concluded that there was insufficient information available to arrive at an answer. The detail of the two subjects' clothes shows that they were painted in the studio, so it is a portrait rather than a genre painting. Frequently, the same faces look out of different paintings, for example, his 16-year-old stepson, Léon Leenhoff, stands at the centre of "The Luncheon", is the "Boy Blowing Bubbles', prepares to cycle in "The Velocipede", 1871, and sits opposite the artist's wife in "Interior at Arachon", 1871. Similarly, Berthe Morisot appears in works from 1870, 1872, 1874 and in a portrait from the Cleveland Museum of Art which is variously dated 1868-69 or 1870-71. The 1874 portrait, "Berthe Morisot in Mourning", painted just after her father's death, appears out of the darkness, and made even more of an impact on the gallery wall. I am not enough of an expert to comment on the criticisms of some critics that a significant number of the works were not of exhibition standard. In "Chez le Père Lathuille - En Plein Air", 1879, the son of the restaurant owner and the actress, Ellen Andrée are in conversation, perhaps commencing a liaison.

A particularly interesting link was made in the exhibition between the work of Renoir and Manet and the influence of Frans Hals on the latter, including his sense of immediacy and spontaneity and his use of black paint, an anathema to the Impressionists, to highlight contrasts. Manet would have seen Hals' works in 1852, 1863 and 1872 when he visited The Netherlands.

Since the artist was financially independent, very few of the portraits were commissions and he had no need to curry favour with the great and the good in Paris who maintained the `standard' of the Salon.

This exhibition and Catalogue made me realise, for the first time, what a tragedy it was that the artist died at the early age of 51 after the amputation of a gangrenous leg brought about by syphilis.
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Review Details



Dr R

Location: Norwich, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 198