Thursday, 25 April 2013

Manet, Father of Today's Art - RETURN TO VENICE

Luncheon on the Grass by Manet (1863) London, Courtauld Gallery, Samuel Couortauld Trust
(Venice, Italy) Édouard Manet shocked the French public in 1865 with Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass - painted in 1863) which featured a naked woman picnicking with two fully-clothed men, another scantily-dressed woman bathing in the background. The influence of Italian Renaissance artists on the painter who would become known as "The Father of Modern Art" is the focus of the spectacular exhibition MANET. RETURN TO VENICE that opened yesterday, April 24, 2013, in the Doge's Apartments inside the Palazzo Ducale. 

Portrait of M & Mme Manet (1860)
Édouard Manet first visited The Louvre with his maternal uncle, Edouard Fournier, when he was just a boy. Born in Paris on January 23, 1832 into a wealthy family, Manet's father was a senior executive in the Ministry of Justice, and his mother was the daughter of diplomats, as well as the goddaughter of the Crown Prince of Sweden. His parents had high hopes of Manet following in their footsteps and pursuing a "respectable" career, but -- once again proving that God has a sense of humor -- their son had been born with the soul of an artist. After refusing to study law, and twice failing the entrance exam to become a naval officer, the teenager went to Paris to pursue a career in the arts. He studied with Thomas Couture, and copied works of ancient masters at the Louvre

The Louvre is where the young Manet first met the Venetian artists Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese (and, with a whisper, Giorgione himself), who passed him their paintbrushes like batons through the ether and initiated him into the World of Art. As has been proven century after century, once those Masters get their hands on an artist's soul, there is nothing the material world can do to rip it from their grasp, although, in Manet's case, society gave it their best shot. We can imagine the young Manet wandering through the enormous museum, poised in front of some of the world's greatest masterpieces, the beckoning voices of the enlightened artists drowning out the authoritative paternal voice, encouraging him to break through the dark barrier of the past and into the light of the future.

Tintoretto self-portrait (1588) Louvre
Setting the exhibition inside the Palazzo Ducale in Venice reunites Manet with the Venetian masters who reached out to him in Paris from beyond the grave. After living amongst the ancient masters in the Louvre, the 21-year-old Manet first came to Italy in 1853 and stayed in Venice, then Florence, and perhaps, went onto Rome and experienced firsthand the environment in which they worked. He next visited Germany and Austria, and then returned to Paris, where he copied the old masters. He again visited Italy in 1857.

Manet. Return to Venice focuses, naturally, on the relationship the painter had with Italy in general and Venice in particular. The oils Manet made of the Venus du Pardo after Titian, and the Self-portrait after Tintoretto, are part of the exhibition (the originals are not; I am including them here for illustration purposes), as are drawings of works by Veronese, Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, Fra Bartolomeo, Parmigianino, Luca della Robbia, Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio and Benozzo Gozzoli. It seems remarkable that a 22-year-old could have the depth of character to produce such exceptional copies of the worldly self-portrait that Tintoretto painted as a man of 70, or the lascivious scene of Jupiter cavorting with Antiope that Titian painted when he was around 50, but when you visit the exhibition, you will witness the phenomenon with your own eyes.

Self-portrait by Edouard Manet (after Tintoretto) (1854) Musée des Beaux-Art, Dijon
True to rebellious form, Manet fell in love with an unsuitable woman, the Dutch-born pianist, Suzanne Leenhoff, who was hired in late 1849 by Auguste, Manet's father, to teach piano to Edouard and his two younger brothers. In 1850, Edouard and Suzanne became lovers, keeping the relationship secret, especially from Auguste. On January 29, 1852, six days after Edouard's 20th birthday, Suzanne gave birth to a son, which she named Lèon-Edouard Koella, "probably" Edouard's son -- all this, remember, taking place prior to Manet's visit to Venice. (He began living with Suzanne and Lèon in 1860, but it wasn't until after his upstanding father, Auguste, died of syphilis in 1862 that Manet married Suzanne on October 28, 1863.)

Pardo Venus by Titian (1540-42) Louvre

Manet arrived in Venice in September, 1853, and the exhibit opens with what was going on in Venice at that point in time. Back in France, the next year he produced the copies of Tintoretto and the Titian, obviously inspired by the painters.

Pardo Venus by Manet (after Titian) (1854) Musée Marmottan, Paris
Also in the first section is the controversial Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (see top), which was inspired by Pastoral Concert, a work attributed to the Venetian artists Titian or Giorgione, and, perhaps, by Giorgione's The Tempest. The jury at the Salon, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, had rejected Luncheon on the Grass in 1863, so Manet exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés (Exhibition of the Refused), the exhibition that Emperor Napoleone III had decreed be established to handle the immense output of art being created and rejected by the Salon at the time. When the critics eyed the naked woman lounging with men who were fully dressed in Luncheon on the Grass, their response was savage. The painting created a huge scandal, causing Manet's good friend, the writer, Emile Zola, to jump to his defense:

Pastoral Concert by Titian or Giorgione (1509) Louvre, Paris
"The Luncheon on the Grass is the greatest work of Édouard Manet, one in which he realizes the dream of all painters: to place figures of natural grandeur in a landscape. We know the power with which he vanquished this difficulty. There are some leaves, some tree trunks, and, in the background, a river in which a chemise-wearing woman bathes; in the foreground, two young men are seated across from a second woman who has just exited the water and who dries her naked skin in the open air.
Emile Zola (1868) Musée d'Orsay
This nude woman has scandalized the public, who see only her in the canvas. My God! What indecency: a woman without the slightest covering between two clothed men! That has never been seen. And this belief is a gross error, for in the Louvre there are more than fifty paintings in which are found mixes of persons clothed and nude. But no one goes to the Louvre to be scandalized. The crowd has kept itself moreover from judging The Luncheon on the Grass like a veritable work of art should be judged; they see in it only some people who are having a picnic, finishing bathing, and they believed that the artist had placed an obscene intent in the disposition of the subject, while the artist had simply sought to obtain vibrant oppositions and a straightforward audience...."

The second section of the exhibition, THE FATES OF VENUS is sensational: Manet's controversial painting OLYMPIA (1863) which was condemned as "immoral" and "vulgar" has traveled out of France for the first time to pose dramatically next to source of her inspiration, Titian's VENUS OF URBINO (1538), which, in 1880, Mark Twain called "the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses" -- it seems he did not know OLYMPIA was on the horizon

Venus of Urbino by Titan (1538) Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
An interesting choice on the part of the curators was to hang the striking 1860 portrait that Manet painted of his parents (see above) on the wall directly across the room from the two paintings. Also, the well-researched timeline provides valuable insight as to what was going on in history, as well as in art, culture and science throughout the major events in Manet's life. Thus, we are reminded that these were turbulent times in both Europe and the United States, with Italy struggling to form a Kingdom and the US abolishing slavery and starting the Civil War, just about the time that Charles Darwin published the Origin of the Species, Victor Hugo published Les Miserables, and Richard Wagner was in Paris with a new production of Tannhauser in French. Perhaps all this uproar is what inspired Cezanne to quit his bank job and become a painter in 1862.

Olympia by Edouard Manet (1863) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Then, in May 1865, the Salon did exhibit Olympia, along with Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers which caused all sorts of renewed outrage directed at Manet. This kind of behavior continued throughout Manet's life. In 1886 he painted The Fifer which he intended to win the Salon public of 1886, but the work was not even accepted.

Let's take the time to read an excerpt from the Wikipedia article about Impressionism that sums up the situation. All three paintings I have used to illustrate the article are by Manet, all are here in Venice for the exhibition, and all are from the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, but are not part of the Wikipedia article:

The Fifer (1866)
"In the middle of the 19th century—a time of change, as Emperor Napoleon III rebuilt Paris and waged war—the Académie des Beaux-Arts dominated French art. The Académie was the preserver of traditional French painting standards of content and style. Historical subjects, religious themes, and portraits were valued (landscape and still life were not), and the Académie preferred carefully finished images that looked realistic when examined closely. Colour was somber and conservative, and traces of brush strokes were suppressed, concealing the artist's personality, emotions, and working techniques.

The Académie had an annual, juried art show, the Salon de Paris, and artists whose work was displayed in the show won prizes, garnered commissions, and enhanced their prestige. The standards of the juries represented the values of the Académie, represented by the works of such artists as Jean-Léon Gérôme and Alexandre Cabanel.

The Balcony 1868-69
Some younger artists painted in a lighter and brighter manner than painters of the preceding generation, extending further the Realism of Gustave Courbet and the Barbizon school. They were more interested in painting landscape and contemporary life than in recreating historical or mythological scenes. Each year, the Salon jury rejected their works in favour of works by artists faithful to the approved style. A group of young realists, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille, who had studied under Charles Gleyre, became friends and often painted together. They gathered at the Café Guerbois, where the discussions were often led by Édouard Manet, whom the younger artists greatly admired. They were soon joined by Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and Armand Guillaumin.[2]
Berthe Morisot with Violets (1874)

In 1863, the jury rejected Manet's The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) primarily because it depicted a nude woman with two clothed men at a picnic. While the Salon jury routinely accepted nudes in historical and allegorical paintings, they condemned Manet for placing a realistic nude in a contemporary setting.[3] The jury's severely worded rejection of Manet's painting appalled his admirers, and the unusually large number of rejected works that year perturbed many French artists.

After Emperor Napoleon III saw the rejected works of 1863, he decreed that the public be allowed to judge the work themselves, and the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused) was organized. While many viewers came only to laugh, the Salon des Refusés drew attention to the existence of a new tendency in art and attracted more visitors than the regular Salon."

Although Manet was invited to exhibit his work at the first Impressionist show in 1874, he declined, and never did actually do a show with the younger artists he helped to inspire. In October, 1874, he traveled again to Venice with his wife, Suzanne, this time as a famous, successful artist. 

Portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé by Manet (1876) Musée d?Orsay, Paris

Parnassus was the home of the Muses, the home of music, poetry and learning. Manet was not only friends with other artists, he put himself in contact with all the writers and poets of his time such as Baudelaire, Zola and Stéphane Mallarmé, with whom he transformed the American writer Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven into an illustrated masterpiece translated into French, known because Mallarmé taught English. These enlightened thinkers painted, wrote and created music inspired by each other, often using their friends and family members as the subjects of their works. Therefore, no matter how often the establishment heaped criticism upon them, or tried to destroy them, they backed each other up, and left behind a brilliant record of their accomplishments that reaches us today. 

Ironically, Edouard Manet died of syphilis just like his father on April 30, 1883. 

Our fathers laughed at Courbet 
and now we fall into ecstasy before his paintings; 
we laugh at Manet 
and it will be our children who go into raptures before his pictures.
---Emile Zola 

Ciao from Venezia, 


Where: Palazzo Ducale – San Marco 1 , 30124 Venice
When: April 24th 2013 / August 18th 2013
Opening hours: from Sunday to Thursday, from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm
Friday and Saturday, from 9.00 am to 8.00 pm 
(ticket office closes 1 hour before)

For more information: 

Co-produced with
24 ORE Cultura – Gruppo 24 ORE
With the special collaboration of the
Musée D’Orsay in Paris
With the patronate of the
Soprintendenza ai Beni Architettonici e Paesaggistici di Venezia e Laguna
Regione del Veneto
Commissaries Guy Cogeval and Gabriella Belli
Curated by Stéphan Guégan
Layout by Daniela Ferretti
The catalogue will be published by Skira-Milan with texts by: Roberto Calasso, Guy Cogeval, Stéphane Guégan, Gabriella Belli, Flavio Fergonzi and Cesare De Seta.


  1. Édouard Manet shocked the French public in 1865 with Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass - painted in 1863) which featured a naked woman picnicking with two fully-clothed men, another scantily-dressed woman bathing in the background. The influence of Italian Renaissance artists on the painter who would become known as "The Father of Modern Art" is the focus of the spectacular exhibition MANET. RETURN TO VENICE that opened yesterday, April 24, 2013, in the Doge's Apartments inside the Palazzo Ducale.

  2. Great article, so does Manet! I have visited a related exhibitions recently, Manet: Portraying Life, and got truly inspired! tank you for sharing your passion in this blog article!