Why Manet's Last Years Were So Formidable

June 1, 2019

When it appeared in the early 1860s, Impressionism was welcomed with skepticism and was considered as a controversial tendency. The young artists came to the conclusion that they were more fascinated by natural phenomena and everyday city life than historical or mythological scenes. One of the leading practitioners of this innovative and truly modern painting style was Édouard Manet.

The iconic figure made considerable efforts to distance himself from traditional representational canons and made a specific turn, not just in painterly, but also in a conceptual and formal sense. The artist is best known for outstanding compositions such as Olympia and The Luncheon on the Grass, but the works he created during the last decade of his life are equally interesting and show the continuity of the artist’s exploration of portrayal and still lives.

The upcoming exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago will offer the audience an extensive overview of the later production aimed to once again confirm the iconic status of the legendary Modernist.

Left Edouard Manet - Jeanne Right Edouard Manet - Autumn Mary Laurent
Left: Édouard Manet - Jeanne (Spring), 1881. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles / Right: Édouard Manet - Autumn (Méry Laurent), 1881 or 1882. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy, Nancy, France. Photo by P. Mignot.

The Exhibition Context

Despite the initial dislike of the entire Impressionist production, by the late 1870s the situation changed, and Édouard Manet became widely admired as the painter of modern life. During that time, he was even more fascinated by the everyday experiences, especially with representing the female beauty, which was quite fashionable then.

To be more precise, although Manet struggled with health issues, he was simultaneously producing grandiose paintings for the Salon and small scale works in a more flexible manner by using pastel and watercolor.

Manet and Modern Beauty, Art Institute of Chicago

The Installment

This exhibition is practically the first to focus on the late 1870s, an important period in Manet’s career. The dominating works that the audience will be able to see are exceptional portraits of fashionable women such as actresses, models, bourgeois women of his acquaintance, as well as his wife. The two paintings stand out - the first of the young model-actress Jeanne Demarsy and the second of his friend Méry Laurent; according to the titles (Jeanne (Spring) and Autumn (Méry Laurent)), Manet was apparently prone on presenting stylish women as allegorical images of the seasons.

All the works will be accompanied by the rarely seen letters Manet wrote to his friends, featuring illustrations of fruits and flowers, garden pictures with elegantly attired women, and flower studies (Manet’s favorite subjects at the end of his life).

On display will also be a couple of grand multifigure paintings, including Boating and In the Conservatory, both shown at the Paris Salon in 1879, which nicely illustrate the modern comprehension of social and gender roles.

Right Edouard Manet – Portrait of Emilie Ambre Left Edouard Manet – Flowers in a Crystal Vase
Left: Édouard Manet – Portrait of Emilie Ambre as Carmen, 1880. Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of Edgar Scott, 1964. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art / Right: Édouard Manet – Flowers in a Crystal Vase, about 1882. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection

Manet at The Art Institute of Chicago

The exhibition organized jointly by the Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum will definitely reveal new layers of Manet’s craftsmanship, as well as the themes and motifs which occupied him in the last years of his life.

Manet and Modern Beauty will be on display at The Art Institute of Chicago until 8 September 2019.

Featured images: Édouard Manet – Boating, 1874-75. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929; Édouard Manet – In the Conservatory, about 1877-79. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie. All images courtesy Art Institute of Chicago.

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