Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Édouard Manet

To try and put it in simple terms for my head to understand, what I've already covered on here so far is the movement of Romanticism (Germany, England and France) and how it came about - then the Realist movement and how that manifested (namely in France). Manet as a realist himself (like Courbet, Daumier, Millet...) is now the man who bridges the gap between realism and what was to come next: Impressionism. This is what I will hope to make sense of in this post. Important to note that Manet did not form part of the movement itself, nor was he an impressionist but he 'fathered' it somewhat. He was about 10 years older than all the youngens who began the impressionist movement, he was there, and began to be influenced by them.

My coursework due date is drawing to a close and I only have a few weeks of lectures left until the end of term and hence the end of this course. For the sake of making use of this to study with when I have my exams in Dec all posts from this course have been tagged as Romanticism - fin de siècle 1800-1900. I'm doing two courses at the moment so all the other posts under Baroque to Neoclassical are separate from this :) There is a method to my madness.

Anyway, Manet. As a true realist he was labelled a 'Flaneur'. Apparently this means stroller, as in he strolls about observing the nature of normal and real life. He was born in 1832 and died in 1883 at the young age of 51. His dad was adamant that he would join the navy but after failing both of his assessments in 1848 his dad gave in to his desire to be an artist. Like any aspiring painter of the 19th century the done thing was to be trained under a teacher in one of the numerous academies that were about. Academies and their work were solely interested in the maintenance of the Albertian found principles from the 1420's. His teacher was Thomas Couture who was very prim and proper. Although, while Manet went about his travels in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany he began to draw influence from Hals and Velazquez (from the Baroque period) and a fairly contemporary figure: Goya (a Spanish romantic). The paintings below are from the period 1856 onwards when he set up his very own studio.

The Absinthe Drinker 1858-1859
Shows a low-life having a drink. Apparently from Bohemia... He may very well be dressed in a top hat and striking a posh pose but I get the overwhelming feeling that it's a bit of a piss take. What I notice is that there is a shadow cast over his eyes, maybe he can't see out of the hat properly - that would mean him and his mates have stolen it off of some poor old sod and posing about in it. Besides, a prim and proper bloke wouldn't leave his glass bottle on the floor? and surely wouldn't be in front what appears to be a random bit of broken wall in the back alleys of Paris somewhere. Not a heroic/historical/academic subject at all, just real people.

I don't really know much about Absinthe, only that it is lethal and should never go anywhere near my mouth - but was it the same then? Would make the painting better if it was.

La Dejeuner sur l'Herbe 1863
A group of Bohemians or students. The naked lady is barely the Venis Pudica of which there are THOUSANDS of examples. She has no shame, her face is plain - she has a doesn't care 'what are you looking at' kind of attitude. This was quite a scandal because while painters could paint the most porn-like women as long as they were mythological or some other kind of subject with academic standard acceptance, to paint a woman naked for NO reason was madness.
Manet adapted a palette of bright tones and dark tones - without a middle tone. The park is dark, the figures are very bright. Something that is usually credited to Velazquez's influence. Of course other influences cannot be denied, only 6 years earlier Courbet's Demoiselles des bords de la Seine (can be found here) caused similar outrage when he depicted young girls doing, well, nothing. A young lady chilling on a river bank = MUST be a prostitute or something surely? especially with that corset without an over-layer.

Olympia 1863
If the painting above caused a disturbance then this one caused a full-scale riot. She was not the cute 'nude' of the past that was specifically differentiated from naked: Nude was an elegant, modest show of everything. Naked is just a shameful naked. Olympia was obviously branded as 'naked'. The thing that pissed off everyone the most is that this actually made its way to the Salon (early version of an exhibition, had to be approved by a panel of academics!!!). It is believed that a few of these kind of heathen paintings got through the cracks because the academy were trying to be hip and gain popularity over the ever increasing in popularity anti-salon = the academy for the rejected art!
So this meant, Olympia came eye to eye with the Bourgeoisie - couples would visit what they think was a respectable art showing and see this 'atrocity'. What's more, the men had probably had sex with a prostitute as ALL of them were at it and considering the fact that the viewer is made to feel like the client because of her may have produced a few guilty faces among the posh fellows and maybe a few domestics as a consequence.
The Venus of Urbino, 1535 was fine to be naked. It is Venus after all. A dog is at her feet to suggest fidelity as dogs are loyal in nature - now look back up at Olympia in the same space you didn't see the cat before? Manet is obviously making a point with an independent animal like a cat. Olympia is the modern day Beyoncé. Another view (one that creeps me out a bit) is that seeing as French people (back in the day too) endearingly referred to a certain part of a woman's body as 'La Chat' then.... A caricature artist obviously warmed to this view (Look below Venus!)
Dead Toreador 1864-65
As a realist Manet's dead people were not honourable or heroic! This man has just been killed by a bull, and he's dead. This is what a dead man looks like. There's no need for angels hanging about holding a cross to refer to the resurrection or for his face to be placid! Realism.

Portrait of Emile Zola 1868
This is in essence a pictorial manifesto if you like. A painting to show the beliefs of this individual. Think a painting of David Cameron with everything painted in blue and a picture of an unoccupied bedroom on his wall and the new school curriculum in his hand. Emile Zola was very well known to be a good friend of Manet. A writer, he would often praise and defend Manet in the wake of his critics. Notice on his wall? There's Olympia.
The Execution of Maximillian 1868-9
In 1867, an Austrian called Maximillian was sent to Mexico as a 'puppet' emperor. His safety was guaranteed by the imposing force of the French who sent him there. When the French withdrew he was captured, and executed alongside two of his generals. There has been drawings of this found, where the soldiers wore typical Mexican dress; Manet changed his mind and was obviously trying to make a point, he changed their uniforms in the final (this) version to French uniform. He blames the French (he was considered a socialist somewhat so it isn't surprising. There are actual PHOTOGRAPHS of this event, took me by surprise!!!! Been studying this since September last year and this is literally the first painting I've been shown a photographic equivalent to!
As I said, he was a fan of Goya. This is Goya, Tres de Mayo 1808, 1814. I'm so sure I've spoken about this before but I can't find it to link to it how annoying! Anyway, Manet was drawing influences from Romantics and their method of painting, but put his own realist twist on it. Here Goya still has the Spanish man holding his hands out in a very Christ-like fashion whereas Maximillian has jolted backwards from the force of the gunfire.
The Barricade & Civil War 1871 (lithograph)
As I touched upon earlier, Manet was somewhat of a socialist. He didn't completely sympathise with the communards but was not happy with the suppression found with the French government.
His lithographs of the era show the brutality of the war. The thing is though, these images do not invoke much emotion, it all feels a bit pointless. I reckon this is the very feeling Manet endeavoured to convey.
Also, it may be a bit hard to compare because this is not a painting, but imagine if it were, the brushwork would be looser would it not? obviously lithographs did not allow the same accuracy as painting on a canvas BUT as a skilled man he would have been able to give these two a finer finish if he'd wanted to.
The Franco-Prussian war saw to the fall of the 'second empire' in France. As German unification gathered pace in 1870 they thought it was necessary to begin a war with France in order to be able to unify the northern confederation of Germany with the independent German states of the south. Napoleon III felt these tensions building and got wind of the Ems Telegram which he interpreted as a threat and declared war. French politicians were confident they would defeat Prussia. Unfortunately they did not. During this war, which caused the ever emerging politically conscious lower classes to live in poverty and suffer, a movement called the commune (communards) rallied against the new government. The government took this threat so seriously that they sent back for more armaments, unfortunately for them the military eventually sided with the commune. The events that were to unfold lead to the death of 18000 Parisians and the imprisonment of 25000 in the civil war, when it became the most violent in what is known as the Bloody Week in May 1871. The commune lasted from March-May that year and the aftermath was about 4000 communards being deported to New Caledonia once the government came to take revenge.

The Railway 1873
Compare this to the earlier paintings, the dissolution of the painterly surface is on its way although we can still see the composition is still largely 'finished' close to academic terms (unless you look very close then the brushwork is free). Notice she's the same model as Olympia, Victorine (I think). Daring of him to show a modern landscape with a train and the smoke emerging from its engines. The look on her face is the same as it always is, dead-pan.  
Rue Mosnier Decked with Flags and with Road Menders 1878
Random man walking about, building work... All very akin to realism and the values of the movement. BUT his technique is becoming more free, just as Turner's became too. He was being influenced by his young friends, the impressionists.

A Bar at the Folies-Bergere 1882
Maybe one of Manet's most famous paintings, and my personal favourite. Classic dead-pan look. A barmaid, bored. Her reflection is odd, it looks like someone else (to the right). You can see she is chatting a man, we think he's a pervert, and we're made to be the customer (AGAIN). She's doing her thing, maybe she was a prostitute too, on sale like all the commodities around her. But while her reflection looks as if she's close to this man, engaging in conversation, our view of her conveys a sense of 'I'm sick of this' or 'I hate doing this, but it's what I've got to do' about it. The subject of course is very realistic, a woman working in a nightclub in paris. The food and drink painted in an elegant still-life manner. There's a show in the background, just all very mundane and normal.
Las Meninas 1656, Velazquez
I did mention he was a fan of Velazquex, and perhaps he took the mirror-image thing from this one here. Again i'm so sure I've spoken about this before but I can't find it, but basically we are the subject, the painter is painting us. But in the mirror right at the back the King and Queen of Spain are stood there.
Eva Gonzalez
The only formal pupil of Manet
A Box at the Italian Theatre 1874
The dead-pan look remind you of anyone?
Manet, Boating 1874
The relationship between the two figures (although inverted) are similar too.

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