40th Visione Artistica: Manet in the grass

Studying the said “most tense period of the college” is already a difficult thing, but attend the 4th period being the most disorganized person in the world is even harder (laughs). However I’m trying to organize myself better, I hope that my lack of posts decreases. In this post (the 40th visione!!) I’ll write about an artist who fits this situation for his troubled personality: Manet.
Revolutionary, but misunderstood, Édouard Manet was one of the greatest artists of the nineteenth century, a landmark in Western painting, in an interview in 1876, he said: “I am a citizen like you, like everyone else.” But his temperament and his social habits hid dark aspects that are reflected in his work apparently simple, but full of content. There was also a transparency with opacity united in his work in light form.


A young man in the mid-nineteenth century who dreamed of a successful career as a painter in Paris had normally to undergo two procedures: taking a trip to Italy and be admitted to the atelier of a consecrated painter in the French capital. Édouard Manet was 18 in 1850 when he made two things: entered the studio of Thomas Couture in 1853 and went to Italy with his brother Eugène.


The painter tries often to enter the Salon, a select group of artists who commanded the artistic movements in the nineteenth century, and this group and its past that inspired Manet to find the spleen, a mixture of sadness and excitement, a game of lights and shadows as in “Absinthe Drinker” (image at the right), with this painting he tries his debut at the Salon of 1859. But is denied, cheered only by the master Delacroix.

The spleen marks so unpredictable the work of Manet. A thin line of shadow hides in sexiness that emanates from the “material body” of his painting: the splendor and charm of lights, with a look of freshness. Its echo allows complete life of images and animate them with more thickness, showing an intensity beyond the flash of the eye. There is a dark side of Manet hidden behind the glare of the light tones of oil.

So he uses the causes and provocation as not only dissemination but as a kind of meditation in parallel, a speculation of his ways, that was quite understood by Degas, his friend and collector of his paintings.


Manet used to paint portraits like still lifes, but not because he lacked sensitivity, he liked to paint people with silent souls, this is ideal would inspire Monet, Renoir, Cézanne and Pissarro later.

In many of his paintings the futility of the social values ​​of the time is incorporated as a character as is the case of “Music in the Tuileries” (below) where the ephemeral and the futility unite in history dictated by the circumstances of the accident. The aesthetics of this expansive portrait already fits on values ​​Impressionists, considered rupture canvas.

Show up is vital in the tough art market, being shy does not lead to commercial success, and Manet in his works incessantly tries to build a dialogue with the public, assuming the viewer. He wanted all of society could appreciate his work and so he needs to enter the Salon, the showcase for art of the time.

“Music in the Tuileries” (1862), Parisian artistic personalities of the period are portrayed in the historic Garden of the Tuilleries, almost a caricature of society. 

The dancer Lola de Valence, Manet’s lover for a time, takes his paintings to Spain. The color, the bullfighters and the sensuality that country invade the canvases of Manet with freedom and with the ubiquitous spleen.

Salon was reporting these screens, but with the difference that the characters seem to emerge from a dream, as indicated by undefined background.

A lover of the painter Alfred Stevens appears in many of these paintings, including the iconic “Olympia”, “Young Woman” and “Mademoiselle V”, I will next explain these three works that became controversial in the Salon and a laughingstock to many critics.

“Lola de Valence”


Using the teachings of the works of Velázquez, Manet prepares one of their greatest expressions of painting: “The Pifano Player”, being even compared with a playing card.


The acclaimed today “Olympia” is one of the most provocative paintings of Manet and was subjected to a lynching of critics and audiences. Like Leonardo Da Vinci saw the “Mona Lisa” as his most significant work, Manet loved this painting so much that it cost two years of work and was in his studio until his death. The failure was a heavy blow, a wound never healed.

“Manet has great talent, a talent that will endure. But he is fragile. He seems desolate and stunned by the shock. What impresses me is the joy of all the idiots who believe he was defeated.” Said his friend Baudelaire.

But who is Olympia? Victorine Maurent is the woman portrayed, lover of the painter Alfred Stevens in a doubly stripped naked, empty of any mythological disguise. It bothers the viewer: the extreme  contrast of light and dark, the ribbon tied around her neck that leads to a subtle eroticism, immature and intensely modern body of Victorine.What bothered  further public was the reference of the work, the much copied and imitated Venus of Urbino by Titian.

Thus, Olympia is the Venus of the 1860s, a prostitute who reigns her time in a whorehouse room where a black servant brings flowers,perhaps gifts  of a client. The bed appears to be floating on the canvas. Some say she is a dead body by her skin tone and expression as if Manet believed that the divine beauty did not exist anymore, I never believed in this view but either way it is an interpretation of the work.

The black cat on the bottom right of the screen was the favorite target of mockery, Manet passed to  be called “the painter of cats” by those who did not like his paintings. For me the cat is one of the many surprises of this painting, it seems to fear the reaction of the viewer.

The four highlights of the canvas:
1 – nudity hidden by the hand
2 – the beauty without modern idealizations of Olympia
3 – a black servant and its contrast with the light colors of clothes and white skin and rosy.
4 – The Black Cat and its reaction frightened by the situation around it and the presence of the spectator

Below “Young Woman” and “Mademoiselle V” where Victorine is also portrayed.


























Manet enjoyed compositions that brought the past into current contexts as in “The Balcony” where “Majas on Balcony” of Goya are his inspiration, but he adds a feature of many of his works, the lack of relationship between the characters of the narrative

The charm, enthusiasm, friendliness, elegance and lightness so Parisian bourgeois  of Manet compose a charismatic figure who ends up producing a public interest on the painter, he turns into a character and is more often seen than his paintings. He takes advantage of this to promote his works to the general public, the desire to succeed was no stranger to the him, he was above all a person anxious and vulnerable as most artists.


“The intense sensual experience of the human flow that spreads ranges of scales of delicious black, interrupted by phrasing masks, eye catching, more by the virtue of its narrative, the fascination of  harmonious and serious colors” Mallarmé  bout “Masked Ball at the Opera” (above).

Painting outdoors is greatly linked to the narrative of seduction: the morning light is fresh and sexy as the youth of many young painted by Manet. This act is an Impressionist  characteristic  that is found in his work.

In most posts I like to keep a chronological order in the works even implicit, but in this special one I let one of the first Manet’s canvas for the end because it is for me (I’m not formed, graduates can manifest) one of most important in the history of art, “Luncheon on the Grass” from 1863.
“This is the greatest work of Manet, one in which he fulfilled a dream shared by all artists to paint life-size figures in a landscape,” told the writer Émile Zola.
The triangular composition has been widely studied by Picasso who said his studies of that work had been the deepest in his conceptual research. For Picasso the canvas represented the nature at its best.
The impressive thing about this work is the use of two important references: “Judgment of Paris” by Raphael and “Campestre Concert” of Titian to create something completely new for its theme and characters, the criticism did not see the work as an ambitious archetype.
The beautiful Victorine appears here as one of the focuses of the work, naked,the only figure that is looking directly to the observer. Her questioning look, staring the viewer with boldness, She appears here as a goddess, a nymph, that year he would  paint “Olympia” with the same ideal of beauty.
From technical point of view, the painting also features innovations: the canvas is not prepared with a dark background, such as common until then, the appeal along with the absence of halftones to describe the transition between light and shadow, creating an effect of immediacy which gives the painting an aspect of unfinished, another cause for the discomfort and criticism. This effect would be used by Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, and other later, I love this effect and always use it in my paintings.
Sick, Manet’s last years were suffered. His last work, “The bar-Bergière Folie” (1881-1882) is the picture of that suffering: the veiled look of uncertainty of Suzon concentrates the only reality “in fact” of the  painting.
Twelve days before his death, he had a leg amputated. On April 30, 1883, on the eve of the Hall, aged 50, he died. Even after his death, Manet’s work was not valued as happened in history like many painters as Van Gogh and Pollock. Even today, few people know the work of this artist and others view him as a minor figure compared to Monet and Renoir. But he is an icon of art that should be more appreciated, not only by professionals, but by the general public.

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