Musée d'Orsay: Manet Dossier: Selected texts

Manet Dossier: Selected texts

Edouard ManetLola de Valence© Musée d'Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Paul de Saint-Victor, La Presse, 1863
Never has anyone distorted lines so appallingly and made tones howl. His Bullfighters would frighten the Spanish cows; his Smugglers would only have to appear to put the most fearless customs men to flight. His Music in the Tuileries hurts the eye as carnival music assaults the ear.

Paul Mantz, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1863
The whole thing is nothing but a shrieking contrast of plaster with white and black tones. The effect is lurid, hard, and sinister. Sometimes, when M. Manet is in a joyful mood, he paints Music at the Tuileries, Spanish Ballet or Lola de Valence , paintings which reveal his abundant energy, but whose patchwork of red, blue, yellow and black, is not real colour at all, but merely a caricature of colour. Really, such art may be strong and faithful but it is not healthy, and we are not disposed to plead M. Manet's cause before the jury of the Exhibition.

Zacharie Astruc, Le Salon de 1863, n°16, 20 May 1863
Manet's talent has a striking and decisive side to it - its biting, sober, energetic quality, revealing a temperament both restrained and fiery, and above all sensitive to heightened impressions. He handles its effects carefully: it is his nature to concentrate on the truth without too much subtle detail, with little regard for brilliance, yet is inspired by everything that arouses his passion. The Spanish school has an irresistible attraction for him with its grey or white colour schemes tingling and quivering with life; he tones down the dazzling colours and gives them a certain feverishness that transposes them. Above all he is a beloved son of the natural world that he worships. Nature has so much more to teach than any school – Manet knows this very well. His powerful intelligence, as yet a green and sour fruit, demands the right to come to maturity in a new sphere which he will invigorate.

Théophile Gautier, Le Moniteur universel, 1865
Olympia cannot be understood from any point of view, even if you take it for what it is, a puny model stretched out on a sheet. [. . . ] We would still forgive the ugliness, were it only truthful, carefully studied, heightened by some splendid effect of colour […]. Here there is nothing, we are sorry to say it, but the desire to attract attention at any price.

Edouard Manet 
 Emile Zola
 Oil on canvas
 H. 146.5; W. 114 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, donation of Mrs Emile Zola, 1918
Edouard ManetEmile Zola© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Emile Zola, L'Evènement illustré, 1866
M. Manet's place is marked out in the Louvre, like Courbet's, like that of every artist with a strong and unrelenting temperament. Moreover, there is not the slightest similarity between Courbet and M. Manet, and these artists, logically, should contradict each other. It is precisely because they have nothing in common that each can enjoy a separate existence. [...] One may mock the panegyrist as loudly as the painter. One day we will both be avenged. An eternal truth sustains me in my critical mission, which is that temperaments alone dominate the ages. It is impossible - impossible, do you hear? - that M. Manet should not have his day of triumph and should not crush the timid mediocrities that surround him.

Edmond Duranty, in Fernand Desnoyers, éd., Almanach parisien, 6e année, 1867
This year, M. Manet has finally caused a truly serious scandal, and he has reaped the opposite of glory. Grocers, fashionable society, students, women philosophers, second-rate artists, everyone has roared with laughter. […] A few painters who know the desiderata of their art, a few writers who consider only the tone, men who succeed in finding a style of their own, they alone have recognised the interest of this very original, very vigorous work, in which the flaws are perceived by whosoever searches for them or takes a different path. [...]

However, those painters we have just described, although learning a little from history, have not achieved their full potential, and it will take many works to bring them more conclusive results.[…] Therefore if they are not mediocre by nature , if they have some prowess, and if their justifiable disdain for unvarying routine does not change into lazy self-satisfaction, if brief success does not lead them to believe that their role is defined by this one fanciful moment, as long as the only importance of this role is in the steadfast willingness to keep to the same line, and maintain it…
They will be painters! […]
Go on then, and do not rely on your adversaries alone to keep you on the road to salvation: Realism!

Joris-Karl Huysmans, L'Art moderne, 1883
One of M. Manet's most constant preoccupations has been to envelop his characters with the atmosphere of the world to which they belong. His brilliant, transparent work, cleansed of the dust and tobacco juice which have for so long been disfiguring the canvases of our artist, has often a caressing touch beneath its apparent bluster, a concise but rather staggering quality of design, consisting of vivid patches of colour in a harmony of bright silvery paint.

Antonin Proust, La Revue blanche, 1897
With Manet, "the eye played such a big role that Paris has never known a flâneur like him nor a flâneur strolling more usefully. As soon as the winter days arrived, when, from early morning, fog blocked out the light to the point where any painting in the studio was impossible, we would go off out to the outskirts of Paris. There he would sketch a mere nothing in a notebook - a profile, a hat, a fleeting impression. And when, the next day, a friend, catching sight of it, would say, “You ought to finish that”, Manet would laugh. “Do you take me for a history painter?” “History painter”, in his mouth, was the most damning insult that could be hurled at an artist.

Edouard Manet 
 Stéphane Mallarmé
 Oil on canvas
 H. 27.5; W. 36 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, bought with the help of the Société des Amis du Louvre and D. David Weill, 1928
Edouard ManetStéphane Mallarmé© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Stéphane Mallarmé, Divagations, 1898
A memory, he would say, so well: "The eye, a hand..." that I muse on.
That eye - Manet's – in an urban tradition from very early on, beholding the new, objects or people, posed, pure and abstract, would always retain the instant freshness of the encounter, captured in the laugher of the eyes, disregarding, in the pose, the weariness of the twentieth sitting. His hand, sure, clear and ready, expresses the mysteries into which his clarity of vision must plunge in order to create - lively, fresh, profound, intense or haunted by an element of darkness - the new French masterpiece.

Georges Bataille, Manet, 1955
The name Manet has a special meaning in the history of painting. Manet was not only a very great painter, but he also broke completely with what came before him; he ushered in the period in which we are living, in tune with the world that exists now, our world; out of place in the world he lived in, that he scandalised. Manet’s painting brought about a sudden change, a bitter upheaval, for which the word revolution would be appropriate if it were not ambiguous: the change of attitude that this style of painting represents, differs, in its fundamental attributes at least, from those paintings that political history records [...] Before Manet, there had never been such a perfect divide between public taste and the changing notion of beauty that art renews over time. Manet introduced the black series; from Manet onwards, the public’s anger and laughter have also certainly been an indication of the rejuvenation of beauty. Others before him had provoked scandals; the relative unity of the taste for classical times was affected at that moment: Romanticism had smashed it, arousing anger; Delacroix, Courbet and the very classical Ingres himself had attracted ridicule. But Olympia was the first masterpiece at which the crowd roared with laughter.

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