Manet attached great importance to still life, which he considered to be the "touchstone of the painter". Tired of history painting and of the "pretentious productions" that weighed down contemporary artistic production, he confessed: "A painter can say all he wants to with fruits or flowers, or even clouds. You know, I would like to be the Saint Francis of still life."
To be sure, in the 1860's still life was fashionable. Its newly acquired popularity was due to the collapse of the old generic hierarchy (which also benefited genre and landscape), to the rediscovery of aspects of the 18th century and to the recent exaltation of Chardin, even though reservations concerning what was viewed as decorative art works suited to feminine talent, still abounded. Manet painted still lifes throughout his career, from ambitious compositions to slight sketches. This exhibition, for the first time, brings together seventy-four of these works, most of them paintings, but also some drawings, watercolours and prints.