The delightful story of this painting is well known: Manet sold Charles Ephrussi A Bunch of Asparagus for eight hundred francs. But Ephrussi sent him a thousand francs, and Manet, who was a master of elegance and wit, painted this asparagus and sent it to him with a note saying: "There was one missing from your bunch".
The "mother" canvas was painted on a black background, rather like the Dutch still lifes of the17th century. Here, Manet creates a very subtle interplay between the mauves and greys of the asparagus and the colour of the marble on which it lies. He paints freely, and purely for the pleasure, demonstrating in this spontaneous work his formidable skill, his perfect taste and his humour. "This is not a still-life like the others", wrote Georges Bataille, "although still, it is, at the same time, lively".
Thus, increasingly throughout the 1880s, Manet produced small still life paintings with a few flowers or a limited number of fruits. It was as if he was producing extracts, examples of the pure essence of painting. Often they were sent to friends, personal gifts that always contained humorous asides or signs of affection and tenderness.