In the autumn of 1865 Theodore Duret, the Parisian critic, found himself in the city of Madrid after a tour of Portugal on horseback. A new hotel on the Puerta del Sol was, he wrote in his life of Manet, a veritable haven after roughing it in the adjacent kingdom. At the mid-day breakfast he ate as if he had never encountered good cooking in his life. Presently his attention was attracted by the behaviour of a stranger who sat next to him. The unknown was a Frenchman who abused the food, the service, and the country. He was so irritable when he noticed Duret enjoying the very plats he had passed that he turned on him and demanded if insult was meant. The horrible cuisine, he explained, made him sick, and he could not understand the appetite of Duret. Good-naturedly Duret explained he had just arrived from Portugal and that the breakfast was a veritable feast. “And I have just arrived from Paris,” he answered, and gave his name, Edouard Manet. He added that he had been so persecuted that he suspected his neighbour of some evil pleasantry. The pair became friends, and went to look at the pictures of Velasquez at the Prado. Fresh from Paris, Manet was still smarting from the attacks made on him after the hanging of his Olympia in the Salon of 1865. Little wonder his nerves were on edge. A dozen days later, after he had studied Velasquez, Goya, and El Greco, Manet, in company with Duet, returned to Paris. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
About eight years ago Duret’s definitive biography of Manet appeared, Histoire de Edouard Manet et de Son OEuvre. No one was better qualified to write of the dead painter than Théosiasm was kindled during the birth throes of impressionism and has never been quenched. Only a few years ago, after a tribute to Whistler, he wrote of Manet in the introduction to his volume on Impressionism, and while no one may deny his estimate, yet through zeal for the name of his dead friend he attributed to him the discoveries of the impressionists. Manet was their leader; he would have been a leader of men in any art epoch; but he did not invent the fulminating palette of Monet, and, in reality, he joined the insurgents after they had waged their earlier battles. His “impressionistic” painting, so called, did not date until later; before that he had fought for his own independence, and his method was different from that of Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Cézanne and the rest. Nevertheless, because of his notoriety – fame is hardly the word – he may be fairly called the leader of the school.
As a rule be was not an irascible man, if the unpleasant nature of the attacks upon him is taken into consideration. With the exception of Richard Wagner and Ibsen, I know of no artist who was vilified during his lifetime as was Manet. A gentleman, he was the reverse of the bohemian. Duret writes of him that he was shocked at the attempt to make of him a monster. He did not desire to become chef d’école, nor did he set up as an eccentric. When he gave his special exhibition his catalogue contained a modest declaration of the right of the artist to his personal vision. He did not pretend to have created a new school, and he asked the public to judge his work as that of a sincere painter; but even that mild pronunciamento was received with jeers. The press, with a few exceptions, was against him, and so were nearly all the artists of influence. Zola% aggressive articles only made the situation worse. Who was this Zola but a writer of doubtful taste and sensational style! The whole crowd of realists, naturalists, and impressionists – the Batignolles school was the mocking title given the latter were dumped into the common vat of infamy and critical vitriol poured over them.
The main facts of Manet’s career may be soon disposed of. His mother was Eugénie Désirée Fournier; she was the goddaughter of Charles Bernadotte, King of Sweden. Her father, a prefect at Pau, had rendered services to Bernadotte which the latter did not forget. When she married, in 1831, Auguste Manet, a distinguished judge of the Seine tribunal, Bernadotte made her many valuable presents and a dowry. Her three sons were Edouard, Eugène, and Gustave. They inherited from their rich grandfather, Fournier.
Edouard was born at Paris, Rue Bonaparte, January 23, 1832. His brother Eugène became a doctor of medicine and later married one of the most gifted of women painters, Berthe Morisot, who died in 1895, after winning the praise of the most critical pens in all Europe. Edouard was intended for the bar, but he threw up his studies and swore he would become a painter. Then he was sent abroad. He visited South America and other countries, and kept his eyes wide open, as his sea pieces proved. After his mother became a widow he married, in 1863, Susanne Leenhoff, of Delft, Holland. She was one of the early admirers of Schumann in Paris and played the A minor piano concerto with orchestra there, and, it is said, with success. She was an admirer of her husband’s genius, and during all the turmoil of his existence she was a friend and counsellor.
The young couple lived with the elder Mme. Manet in the Rue de Saint-Pétersbourg, and their weekly reception became a rallying centre for not only les Jeunes, but also for such men as Gambetta, Emile 0llivier, Clemenceau, Antonin Proust, De Banville, Baudelaire, Duranty with whom Manet fought a duel over a trifle Zola, Mallarmé, Abbé Hurel, Monet, and the impressionistic group. Edouard entertained great devotion for his mother. She saw two of her sons die, Edouard in 1883 (April 30) and Gustave in 1884. (He was an advocate and took Clemenceau’s place as municipal councillor when the latter was elected Deputy.) Mme. Manet died in 1885. The painter was stricken with locomotor ataxia, brought on by protracted toil, in 1881. For nearly three years he suffered, and after the-amputation of a leg he succumbed. His obsequies were almost of national significance. His widow lived until 1906.
Manet et manebit was the motto of the artist. He lived to paint and he painted much after his paralytic seizure. He was a brilliant raconteur, and, as Degas said, was at one time as well known in Paris as Garibaldi, red shirt and all. The truth is, Manet, after being forced with his back to the wall, became the active combatant in the duel with press and public. He was unhappy if people on the boulevard did not turn to look at him. “The most notorious painter in Paris” was a description which he finally grew to enjoy. It may not be denied that he painted several pictures as a direct challenge to the world, but a painter of offensive pictures he never was. The execrated Picnic, proscribed by the jury of the Salon in 1861, was shown in the Salon des Refuses (in company with works by Bracquemond, Cazin, Fantin-Latour, Harpignies, Jongkind, J. P. Laurens, Legros, Pissarro, Vollon, Whistler the mildest-mannered crew of pirates that ever attempted to scuttle the bark of art), and a howl arose. What was this shocking canvas like ? A group of people at a picnic, several nudes among them. In vain it was pointed out to the modest Parisians (who at the time revelled in the Odalisque of Ingres, in Cabanel, Gérôme, Bouguereau, and other delineators of the chaste) that in the Louvre the Concert of Giorgione depicted just such a scene; but the mixture of dressed and undressed was appalling, and Manet became a man marked for vengeance. Perhaps the exceeding brilliancy of his paint and his unconventional manner of putting it on his canvas had as much to do with the obloquy as his theme. And then he would paint the life around him instead of producing pastiches of old masters or sickly evocations of an unreal past.
He finished Olympia the year of his marriage, and refused to exhibit it; Baudelaire insisted to the contrary. It was shown at the Salon of 1865 (where Monet exhibited for the first time) and became the scandal of the day. Again the painter was bombarded with invectives. This awful nude, to be sure, was no more unclothed than is Cabanel’s Venus, but the latter is pretty and painted with soap-suds and sentimentality. The Venus of Titian is not a whit more exposed than the slim, bony, young woman who has just awakened in time to receive a bouquet at the hands of her negress, while a black cat looks on this matutinal proceeding as a matter of course. The silhouette has the firmness of Holbein; the meagre girl recalls a Cranach. It is not the greatest of Manet; one could say, despite the bravura of the performances, that the painter was indulging in an ironic joke. It was a paint pot flung in the face of Paris. Olympia figured at the 1887 exhibition in the Pavilion Manet. An American (the late William M. Laffan) tried to buy her. John Sargent intervened, and a number of the painter’s friends, headed by Claude Monet, subscribed a purse of twenty thousand francs. In 1890 Monet and Camille Pelletan presented to M. Fallières, then Minister of Instruction, the picture for the Luxembourg, and in 1907 (January 6), thanks to the prompt action of Clemenceau, one of Manet’s earliest admirers, the hated Olympia was hung in the Louvre. The admission was a shock, even at that late day when the din of the battle had passed. When in 1884 there was held at the École des Beaux-Arts a memorial exposition of Manet’s works, Edmond About wrote that the place ought to be fumigated, and Gérôme “brandished his little cane” with indignation. Why all the excitement in official circles? Only this: Manet was a great painter, the greatest painter in France during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Beautiful paint always provokes hatred. Manet won. Nothing succeeds like the success which follows death. (Our only fear nowadays is that his imitators won’t die. Second-rate Manet is as bad as second-rate Bouguereau.) If he began by patterning after Hals, Velasquez, and Goya, he ended quite Edouard Manet; above all, he gave his generation a new vision. There will be always the battle of methods. As Mr. MacColl says: “Painting is continually swaying between the chiaroscuro reading of the world which gives it depth and the colour reading which reduces it to flatness. Manet takes all that the modern inquisition of shadows will give to strike his compromise near the singing colours of the Japanese mosaic.”
What a wit this Parisian painter possessed! Durettells of a passage at arms between Manet and Alfred Stevens at the period when the former’s Le Bon Bock met for a wonder with a favourable reception at the Salon of 1873. This portrait of the engraver Belot smoking a pipe, his fingers encircling a glass, caused Stevens to remark that the man in the picture “drank the beer of Haarlem.” The mot nettled Manet, whose admiration for Frans Hals is unmistakably visible in this magnificent portrait. He waited his chance for revenge, and it came when Stevens exhibited a picture in the Rue Lafitte portraying a young woman of fashion in street dress standing before a portière which she seems about to push aside in order to enter another room. Manet studied the composition for a while, and noting a feather duster elaborately painted which lies on the floor beside the lady, exclaimed: “Tiens! elle a donc un rendezvous avec le valet de chambre?”
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