Manet, a painter of still life, meditated on the lessons of his predecessors, those of the Spanish and their bodegones (Guitar and Hat, Avignon, Musée Calvet), those of the Dutch (The Salmon, Shelburne, Vermon, Shelburne Museum), and of Chardin (Fish, Chicago, Art Institute). In the 1860's he toyed with frank oppositions of black and the white, the dark wood of a table against the brightness of a napkin or tablecloth on which he placed his touches of colour.
Like Cézanne and Monet, whom he was to influence, Manet found in the obedient and ever-available still life a laboratory for experiments in colour. He transferred his discoveries to other compositions and, like Cézanne and Monet, he revealed a curious obsession with sparkling whiteness; he too wanted to paint tables set with white tablecloths "like a layer of freshly fallen snow", (Still life with Melon and Peaches, Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art).
Given the importance of still life in Manet's work, many recognised as early as the 1890's, the revolution he had been accomplishing - the birth of a painting solely preoccupied with itself and freed from the tyranny of the subject. By rejecting all hierarchy within the painting itself, highlighting the accessory as much as the figure, Manet assuredly broke away from academic rules. Devoted to a few figural masterpieces (Portrait of Zacharie Astruc, Young Man Peeling a Pear, Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Portrait of Théodore Duret, Portrait of Eva Gonzalès, London, National Gallery), a section of the exhibition will focus on the subtle connections Manet established between the sitters and the referential objects that surround him.