Cover image for Manet : the still-life paintings
Manet : the still-life paintings
Mauner, George L., 1931-
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Publication Information:
New York : Harry N. Abrams in association with the American Federation of Arts, [2000]

Physical Description:
198 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm
General Note:
Exhibition itinerary: Musée d'Orsay, Paris, Oct. 9, 2000-Jan. 7, 2001; Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Md., Jan. 30-April 22, 2001.
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ND553.M3 A4 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Of all the paintings by the Impressionist master Edouard Manet, nearly one-fifth are still lifes, a genre the artist himself considered "the touchstone of painting". This sumptuous volume, published to accompany a landmark exhibition at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore and at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, is the first major book to focus on this crucial aspect of Manet's work.Throughout his career, and especially later in his life, Manet devoted considerable energy to still lifes, producing oils, watercolors, and prints that unite exuberant personal expression with a flawless mastery of light and detail. With informative text, including an enlightening essay by Henri Loyrette, director of the Musee d'Orsay, Manet: The Still-Life Paintings features lush, full-page colorplates as well as full-bleed details of what some critics consider the finest examples of still-life painting ever executed.The exhibition this book accompanies has been organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Reunion des Musees Nationaux/Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Close reading isn't just for poetry. In Manet: The Still-Life Paintings, George Mauner, distinguished professor emeritus of art history at Penn State, gives close and illuminating attention to some of the best-loved works in all of modern painting, reproduced here in 133 illustrations (106 in full color). Henri Loyrette, director of Paris's Mus‚e d'Orsay, contributes an essay showing Manet's place within a long tradition of still-life painters. Subject-based sections such as "The First Flowers," "Fruits and Vegetables" and "Two Festive Tables" make a large body of work accessible and thematically coherent. ( Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Using still life to suspend time and focus on light, Manet broke with academic themes and traditions of perspective to presage Impressionism and usher in a new way of painting. This catalog for an exhibit that travels from the Muse D'Orsay in Paris to the Walters Gallery in Baltimore reveals the breath and scope of Manet's still lifes, both visually and theoretically. In between the opening and concluding essay are full-color plates with details of Manet's rich palette. Here are still lifes of full, ripe strawberries, plums stroked with blue and green paint, and delicate and sensual peonies recalling a soft summer evening. Although the text is fairly dense, the reader will be rewarded with references to Manet's constructions of the paintings and their philosophical, theoretical, and moral character as well as allusions to contemporary culture, such as the dictums of Baudelaire. The specialist will find a compact and intense view here, while the general reader will come to appreciate fully the artist who believed a painter need only paint clouds and fruit and flowers. Recommended for large public libraries, museums, universities, and other special art book collections. Ellen Bates, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Mauner (Pennsylvania State Univ.) prepared this catalog, which accompanies the exhibition Manet--The Still-Life Paintings held at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. As can be seen from this catalog, still lifes made up a fifth of Manet's output. The catalog is organized into four parts; the first part is an authoritative essay by Mauner, who discusses models and traditions of the past, even emblem books often alluded to by Manet, and probable philosophical content. There follows a discussion of individual works with comments referring to the previous essay as well as the comments made by Loyrette (director, Musee d'Orsay) in the part following. Loyrette draws our attention to the influence of Japanese art and the still life art of the 18th century. His remarks reinforce the aesthetic appreciation of Manet's work. The last part is a catalog of the works in the exhibition. Both essays have voluminous notes. There is an excellent bibliography, and the reproduction of the paintings and watercolors is very good. General readers; undergraduate and graduate students. E. E. Hirshler emeritus, Denison University



Chapter One MANET AND THE LIFE OF NATURE MORTE George Mauner In March of 1865, Edouard Manet informed Charles Baudelaire of an event he found extraordinary: "I had quite a surprise these last days, Ernest Chesenau bought a painting from me, two flowers in a vase, a little nothing. Perhaps he will bring me good luck." The critic had, in fact, bought the little still life at the Martinet gallery, where Manet had had an exhibition early in 1863, and where he had again sent works to be exhibited in February of 1865. The really remarkable thing is that it should have been Ernest Chesenau, of all people, who bought the painting, for though the critic had shown some understanding of Manet's gifts in his review of the Martinet exhibition in early 1863, he had much to criticize when he saw Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (fig. 7) later that year: "M. Manet will have talent," he wrote, "when he learns how to draw and do perspective; he will have taste the day he renounces those subjects that are chosen with a view to provoking scandal." It was also Chesenau who had revealed Manet's use of the seated group in Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving after Raphael, The Judgment of Paris , in the arrangement of his figures in Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe , his point having been to expose Manet not only as a plagiarist, but as one inept enough to allow the identification of his source. That this identification might have been Manet's intention (since it is so obvious) did not occur to Chesenau, just as it has not occurred to many since then. Under the circumstances, then, it is easy to understand Manet's surprise at the news of this purchase, and the pleasure it gave him. He must, however, have had an even greater surprise when he read Chesenau's opinion of Olympia only two months after he had bought the still life. On May 16, Chesenau wrote: "I must say that the grotesque aspect of his contributions has two causes: first, the almost childish ignorance of the fundamentals of drawing, and then, a prejudice in favor of inconceivable vulgarity. He succeeds in provoking almost scandalous laughter, which causes the Salon visitors to crowd around this ludicrous creature called `Olympia.'" It is interesting that Chesenau was able to make such a clear and categorical distinction between the quality of Manet's large figure paintings and his efforts in still life.     Edouard Manet is so closely associated with the violent reaction his art first elicited that there is a certain amount of difficulty in thinking of him as anything other than as a radical, groundbreaking figure, least of all as a painter who, in other respects, found acceptance and even admiration. It is, after all, Manet whom we identify with the Salon des Refusés in 1863, with the birth of Impressionism, and with the notion of the avant garde itself, with its basic tenet that there will always be a gap between the courageous, innovative artist and an unprepared public. Moreover, the scandals produced by the great figure paintings of 1863 and 1865 (nominally genre but on an unaccustomed grand scale and lacking the charm expected of genre painting), and their historical fallout, have obscured the fact that Manet had been painting other pictures that, while revealing the same technical verve, were readily accessible to traditional tastes and provoked no one. In this category are to be found the still-life paintings, some eighty in number, approximately one-fifth of his life's work.     Two references Manet made with regard to still-life painting are as revealing to us as they are thought-provoking: "Still life is the touchstone of the painter," he said on one occasion, and a longer remark, contained within a helpfully broader context, was made to the painter Charles Toché in Venice: "These Italians bore one after a time with their allegories and their "Gerusalemme Liberata" and "Orlando Furioso," and all that rubbish. A painter can say all he wants to with fruit or flowers or even clouds.... You know, I should like to be the Saint Francis of still life."     This last remark, as we shall see, was not as casual as it might seem. The first remark was made late in his life to Jacques-Emile Blanche, when Manet asked the young artist to bring a brioche along on a visit to his studio for the purpose of painting it under Manet's supervision. What did Manet mean by the "touchstone" of the painter? An obvious and simplistic reading of the term would suggest that still life, more than any other genre, tests the painter's ability to render convincingly, and in purest form, the appearance of the things of this world. In other words, it would seem to be consistent with the most basic definition of realism, such as the one implied by Gustave Courbet's famous remark that he would be pleased to paint an angel were he ever to see one. It can, then, be understood simply as a reference to the level of the artist's skill, to that coordination of the hand and the eye that is the hallmark of technical mastery However, Manet may well have had in mind the significance that things have for our consciousness, the associations with which they are laden, in short, the wide range of human thoughts and feelings that they can be made to recall or evoke. Could this really be taught, or perhaps inspired by example? Manet's words to Toché, including the astonishing mentions of Saint Francis and even of clouds, surely imply that Manet had quite a sophisticated meaning in view. At the very least, his unvarnished opinion of Italian Baroque art tells us unequivocally of his rejection of narrative in painting and, more generally, of his view that what is appropriate in literature and what is suitable to visual art are different in character. He could not have failed to understand that the historical subjects he ridiculed were also intended to convey more than a recollection of a historical moment, that they contained references to aspects of human nature that are not time- or incident-bound. It is in this regard that we can see the likelihood that Manet believed these feelings can be given more substantial, unadulterated, and lasting expression through the selection and organization of objects. The probability of this being the case can best be tested by examining Manet's inclusions of still life within his figure paintings, -wherein their prominence is evident and anything but casual. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to imagine most of his figure pieces with their still-life component removed. How can we doubt that the basket of food and shed clothing in Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe have a referential purpose? To recall just some of the more prominent examples, can we think of Olympia's maid without her bouquet; The Old Musician without his violin, bow, and satchel; the Portrait of Emile Zola minus the books and objects on his desk; the Portrait of Théodore Duret (plate 14) without the taboret, lemon, and books; the Philosophers standing alone, without, in one case, the debris, and in the other, the oysters on a bed of straw, at their feet; the Portrait of Zacharie Astruc (plate 9) without the books, quill, and lemon in the lower left corner; the Woman with a Parrot (fig. 10) without the succulent orange on the ground; the Street Singer relieved of her fruit and instrument; The Young Man Peeling a Pear (plate 10) without the fruit in his hand and on the plate; The Luncheon in the Studio with its double still life, the private one at the right, the professional one at the left, removed; or the portrait of Eva Gonzalès (plate 29) with its painting within a painting on the easel and the scroll and flower on the ground taken away? And can we remove the rope and crown of thorns from the lower right corner of The Mocking of Christ , where they reappear as a thought-provoking emblem after having been given a descriptive function on the body of Christ? And what of the skull before the Monk in Prayer ? Finally, can we imagine A Bar at the Folies-Bergère without its sparkling array of bottles and fruit dish front and center on the marble surface? Is this not as much a still life with figures as a painting of figures with a still life? A few of the earlier pictures should also be taken into account in this survey, for in these the relationship between person(s) and objects is particularly revealing and easier to understand than in the mature works. Woman with Pitcher (plate 7) is a particularly useful example.     Those objects that, when assembled, become still-life compositions, have, when used individually, traditionally functioned as attributes of a personage, most commonly a saint or historical figure, or as representative of an abstract concept, such as we find in the emblem books popular with writers and artists since the sixteenth century. All academically trained artists of the nineteenth century were well acquainted with this usage, although they often ignored it or tried to apply it in a new way. In Manet's Woman with Pitcher the act that is represented, a woman pouring from a pitcher into a bowl, while nominally a genre subject, had also been the familiar emblem of the virtue of temperance throughout Europe for centuries (see figs. 1 and 2). Even had Manet not intended this as his subject, he would surely have realized that the public would take it as such, despite the portraitlike character of the figure and Manet's effort to de-emphasize the moral content of his conception. Such an approach was, of course, consistent with Baudelaire's ideal of presenting the eternal beneath the fleeting appearance of modern life, a notion Manet was to develop with increasing subtlety in the years to come. It is pertinent, in this regard, to recall that Mademoiselle Victorine in the Costume of an Espada (fig. 3), painted in 1862, was based on a sixteenth-century emblem depicting Nemesis (who punishes intemperance, or excess) retaining the sword from the emblem and substituting the red cloth or muleta (which stops the bull) for the reins held by the woman in the emblem (see fig. 4). The fact that the torero is a woman, long a puzzling aspect of the painting, is a further clue to its emblematic source and meaning, since all abstract concepts, such as the virtues, were symbolized by women. This, of course, is not puzzling in Woman with Pitcher , while it is startling to find a woman in the bull ring. The Andrea Alciati emblem is itself a reprise of the pose of a temperance by Raimondi (fig. 5). It is difficult not to see as attributes the huge sword that the boy carries in that exquisite early work (fig. 6), or the tray in the etching (plates 12a, b), watercolor (plate 11), and small oil painting in which The Boy Carrying a Tray is a detail (plate 13). The meaning of the objects in these pictures remains conjectural, and is no longer as obvious as in the slightly earlier Woman with Pitcher , although they continue to seem purposeful in their selection and placement.     In Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (fig. 7), a far more complex picture than Woman with Pitcher in every respect, Manet not only borrowed the poses and figure grouping from a detail of the Raphael-Raimondi Judgment of Paris , but made use of the still life in the lower left corner as a witty allusion to his source. The helmet becomes a straw hat, a translation into modern, secular terms of one of the attributes of Athena. In the source image, the objects are placed between the goddess and the nymph, and since Manet has retained only the nymph--now as a contemporary nude--the object has become part of her persona, a stylish component of the sensual arrangement composed of the fruit and the clothing that has been shed. In this case, the still life comes as close to speaking as possible, and we might naturally conclude that Manet wished to help his viewer recognize his reference to a venerable, well-known image depicting moral choice. Apparently only Chesenau recognized it, at least in print, until Gustave Pauli did so again in 1908.     In Olympia it is the bouquet, a splendid still life brought in by the servant, that tells us of the arrival of a client (who does not appear in the picture) in the courtesan's chambers. In The Old Musician , the object-attribute of the violin serves as a reference to the artist as philosopher (the figure is based on a classical statue of a philosopher in the Louvre), while the bow appears to point out life's duality, another firm Baudelairian conviction, embodied in the linked pale and swarthy adolescents who take their place in the lineup of characters that recall the archetypes of the commedia dell'arte. (The pale youth is a direct reference to J.-A. Watteau's Pierrot, "Gilles" as well as the stages of life and the eternal return.")     The sophistication of incorporating a philosophic point that we see in Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe is foreshadowed by a number of pictures painted in 1862. In addition to The Old Musician , the most notable, as well as enigmatic among them is The Street Singer (fig. 8), that first casting of Victorine Meurent who would pose for for Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe and Olympia in the role of a Parisian type. As she emerges from a cafe, this character is burdened with objects: the guitar, which seems almost too bulky for her to manage comfortably, and the cherries wrapped in a paper from which she brings a handful to her lips. Her stare as she does this is unexpected, since she would hardly be engaged in this action while being watched. The gesture and gaze, along with the objects, confer upon the figure and the subject as a whole a certain awkwardness that does not conform to the expected allure of a genre picture.     The self-conscious gesture of hand to mouth is akin to the equally self-conscious way the Woman with a Parrot (fig. 10), painted four years later, dangles her monocle before us while sniffing some violets. This picture, with the orange, the violets, the monocle, even the talking bird, and the woman's gaze, has been read as a representation of the theme of the five senses. A comparison with a painting (fig. 9) by the Neapolitan artist known as The Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, confirms this reading of Manet's picture. Although he may not have known this particular work, he very likely was familiar with the type. With this in mind, we may presume to identify The Street Singer as an earlier attempt to treat that subject, incorporating references, as it does, to sight, sound, taste, smell (the smoky café espied behind the figure), and touch (the term is, of course, applied directly to the playing of keyboard and string instruments, such as the guitar the singer holds in the precarious way that attracts our attention).     There can be no denying that almost every image of a person in a given setting will contain elements that may be assigned meanings of this sort, if one is inclined to do so. Could not the The Guitarist , for example, with its musical instrument, plucked strings and mouth open in song, the smoking cigarette and the onion, be considered a still earlier rendering of the senses? And what of Les Gitanos , cut up but known to us through an etching? Is that composition not also a possible "five senses" image? It contains all the ingredients, and does so in a studied way. In the case of Manet, some of whose paintings seem awkward or make traditional use of standard emblematic elements as attributes, there is ample reason to look seriously into the possibility that the artist did, indeed, think of his objects as referential, if not in every case, certainly in some of the important paintings, particularly during the 1860s. Woman with Pitcher , as we have seen, is precisely such a work.     The subject of the senses is part of a broader preoccupation with the theme of temperance and the specter of mortality as it is expressed in the vanitas , paintings with their memento mori amid the sense pleasures of the world. These go back to the origins of still life as a genre, and there is no period when still Life flourished that it does not make its appearance, either overtly or under some form of disguise. There is sufficient evidence that this thematic complex occupied Manet for a number of years, certainly from about 1860 until at Least 1868. Young Man Peeling a Pear (plate 10), painted about 1868, for example, is reminiscent of traditional renderings of the sense of taste or of smell. The way the model looks at us while in the act of preparing the fruit for consumption has the character of an invitation to think about the image. With a knowledge of Manet's admiration for seventeenth-century Spanish painting, we can readily identify the image Manet had in mind for his own representation of the subject. It is almost certainly the Sense of Smell by Jusepe de Ribera. There exist several sets of replicas of Ribera's five paintings of the senses, one of them Long in a French private collection. These faithful copies, unlike the originals (which have slowly been coming to light), include the name of the sense written in Latin at the top of each picture. The replica of Manet's source painting for his Young Man Peeling a Pear (and it may well have been the actual source) is labeled Odoratus (fig. 11). It has recently been demonstrated that Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe , as it was presented at the Salon des Refusés between two other paintings derived from images of virtue, became the centerpiece of a monumental triptych that, like The Judgment of Paris , has temperance as its theme. The Romans of the Decadence , the painting responsible for the fame of Manet's teacher, Thomas Couture, had also been a statement dealing with excess, and the philosophic reminder to lead a temperate life; but whereas Couture had depicted a scene from classical antiquity intended as an allusion to modern times, Manet has reversed the process and shows us modern life with a reference, by means of his sources, to antiquity and to the timelessness of the human problem.     Raimondi's print not only illustrated the judgment of Paris, it also contained, in the lower left corner, an inscription admonishing the viewer to be aware of the trouble caused by Paris's intemperate choice. Just a year before Manet painted the Déjeuner , a sixteenth-century faience plate (fig. 12) decorated with Raimondi's composition, entered the Louvre as part of the celebrated Campana collection. Just below the familiar seated figures, the ceramist inscribed his own words of similar admonition: O tu che legerai questo dicto notarai teme Dio e pensa ai fine che bon(a)opera farai et ei tuo bei tempo non perderai. (O you who will read this dictum, remember the fear of God And think of the end that you will do good works And not waste your precious time.) It was probably not this plate that inspired Manet to paint his great, controversial picture, but in view of the publicity that the purchase and exhibition of the collection of the Roman Marquis Campana engendered, he must have known it, so that along with the dictum on the Raimondi print, he could not possibly have missed the moral issue with which this design was associated.     The invitation to think, which the artist extends to us by means of the youth's gaze in our direction in Young Man Peeling a Pear , is typical of such illustrations of the individual senses, as it generally is of paintings that contain a moral message. It is present in Ribera's "senses," as well as in the series devoted to the subject by Frans Hals and Gonzales Coques (see fig. 13), and in an anonymous Spanish or French painting in a private collection (fig. 14), as well as in other Caravagesque paintings in Naples. Thanks to such relatively straightforward cases of the use of objects as attributes of persons and concepts, we may assume that in all likelihood other works, such as The Boy with a Sword, The Boy Carrying a Tray , and The Boy Blowing Bubbles (a reference to the brevity of life, deriving from the sixteenth-century commonplace of the "Homo Bulla" [Man as Bubble]), were also conceived with an emblematic role that may always have been concealed to some extent, but whose meaning is no longer understood or even suspected today.     Such use of objects as we find in the portrait of Emile Zola are purposeful in an obvious way. The brochure on the desk before the sitter, for example, is Zola's essay about Manet, and it gives the viewer not only the names of the artist and the sitter, but also speaks of their union. Just as Manet had been Zola's subject, now Zola is "studied" by Manet. The objects in the Portrait of Théodore Duret , on the other hand, are difficult to read as anything other than what Duret, with some uncertainty, told his readers they are--just a desire on the part of the painter to add some color. In this case, however, the little still-life arrangement constitutes a private message to the sitter, who, as critic, had not only just published a less than flattering view of Manet, but had also given evidence of his embarrassment about owning and exhibiting the little portrait by the controversial painter when he asked Manet to remove his signature from it. Manet responded with a trick learned from Francisco Goya (whose portrait Manuel Lapeña, Marquis of Bondad Real [fig. 15], which Duret and Manet had seen together in Spain, served as a model for Duret's pose), by turning the signature upside down. The painting of the Duchess of Alba , in which Goya's signature is reversed, had been in the Musée Espagnol in Paris until 1848. In that painting the duchess points to the inverted signature, as Manet has Duret point to his with the cane. Just as Zola's brochure is proudly displayed in the portrait of that writer, so Duret's book Les Peintres français en 1867 , which includes his lukewarm opinion of his friend's work, is casually tossed under the taboret. Of course, Manet did not go as far as naming the book. He did not have to. The two pictures, both painted in the same year, reveal Manet's propensity for using appropriate objects, as well as gestures, as salient, silent commentary. Whether of a public or private nature, commentary there certainly was?     An interesting piece of evidence for Manet's understanding of the important part that objects can play in the communication of ideas, as well as for his surprising interest in esoteric imagery, is his Fifer of 1866 (fig.16), a painting that Zola particularly admired, without, in all probability, being privy to its source. Manet's fifer derives from a tarot card of the mid-nineteenth century that represents the Fool (or Joker, in terms of the modern pack; see fig. 17). The poses and the activity, centered in the fife, are nearly identical, while the clothing is a translation of the timeless Bohemian appearance of the tarot figure into that of the military musician of Manet's day. It is true that this approach of incorporating "meaning" into a picture is characteristic only of Manet's work during the 1860s, but there is a major transitional work, dated 1870, that prepares us for the likelihood that, while the clues such as emblems, gazes, and pointing fingers vanish, the intention to continue to imbue the pictures with a second level of meaning has not been abandoned, but is integrated with greater subtlety. This example is the portrait of Eva Gonzalès, Manet's only true pupil. The portrait is a veritable questioning of the nature of the artist's reality in the guise of presenting an attractive woman at her work.     Quite appropriately, given her role in Manet's life, Eva is seen in the act of painting. The work in hand is a still life of flowers in a vase. She looks very comfortable, with her foot resting on a footstool, and completely lacks the self-consciousness we have seen in The Street Singer and The Woman with a Parrot of a few years earlier. She holds the palette and mahlstick in her left hand, while extending the right hand with the brush toward her painting, all as natural as possible. Thus, the figure lacks any thought-provoking qualities, but the painting as a whole contains more than a few. (Continues...) Copyright © 2000 American Federation of Arts. All rights reserved.