Manet, the Man who Invented Modernity

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Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)
 Hommage à Delacroix [Homage to Delacroix]
 1864
 Oil on canvas
 H. 160; W. 250 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, donation by Etienne Moreau-Nélaton, 1906
Henri Fantin-LatourHomage to Delacroix© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Modernity is indeed there

In a way, the exhibition came about through one painting, Homage to Delacroix that Fantin-Latour, one year after the great master's death, showed at the Salon in 1864. In it, we can see Manet, whose Luncheon on the Grass, had been rejected by the Salon in 1863, in good company, standing between Champfleury and Baudelaire: on the one hand, Courbet's man; on the other, Delacroix's champion. Was Manet, therefore, the painter who brought Realism and Romanticism together?

Edouard ManetLunch on the Grass© RMN -Grand Palais(Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Fantin-Latour's appealing hypothesis only needed to be considered in more depth and supported. This is what the nine sections of this exhibition propose to do by rescuing Manet from the unsound judgment of later generations. We can no longer just present Manet as the reputed father of Impressionism or of pure painting, not to mention abstract art.

Manet's dazzling success in the early1860s, his continued evolution in the following two decades - from the militant Hispanism of his early work to the unorthodox Naturalism of the later ones -, his determination to revolutionise history painting in the public space where it was meaningful, these are perspectives better suited to Manet's "Modern" genius, for Modernity is indeed there.

Thomas CouturePortrait of Amédée Berger© Musées de la Ville de Rouen. Photographie C. Lancien, C. Loisel.

The Choice of Couture

In order to emphasise Manet's radical approach even more, his first biographers – Zola in 1867 - cut him off from his roots. It was assumed that he had not retained anything from his six years of training (late 1849 to early 1856) in Thomas Couture's studio. It was after he failed the entrance exam for the Naval College that Manet, son of a senior civil servant, enrolled at the studio of the painter of Romans of the Decadence (Paris, Musée d'Orsay).
Couture was not then considered to be just another Academic painter, but rather the heir to Rubens and Ribera, as well as to Gros and Géricault, in a more academic way...

Edouard ManetYoung Boy with a Sword© The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image of the MMA
This friend of Michelet was virtually the official artist of the Second Republic. When Manet joined him, Couture was striving to complete an enormous patriotic scene, The Enrolment of the Volunteers of 1792 (around 1848, Beauvais, Musée Départemental de l'Oise), animated by a realistic vitality that is more evident in the preparatory drawings.
Manet also appreciated both the all-encompassing sincerity of the portraitist and the sentimentality of his dreamy or rebellious adolescent figures. But his copies of Delacroix and his Boy with a Sword (1861, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art), leaning towards Velazquez's Spain, revealed other ambitions.

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