Feminine Manet

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One of Manet’s last paintings, “Jeanne (Spring),” from 1881, is the centerpiece of the exhibition. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles acquired it in 2014 after more than a century in the shadows. Credit The J. Paul Getty Museum.

My favorite touch on this painting is the mauve-against-yellow bonnet garnish — purple-yellow adjacencies enthuse me. Otherwise, the mannequin with the bee-sting pucker and doe-stupid gaze is both masterful and tiresome.

Jason Farago writes about the exhibition “Manet and Modern Beauty,” on view at the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition “focuses on the art of Manet’s last six or seven years before his early death in 1883, at the age of 51.”

Farago says art historians tended to dismiss these later genre scenes, portraits and still lifes “with the three Fs: frivolous, fashionable and (worst of all) feminine.”

The trouble I have with Farago’s art criticism is in keeping excerpts from it lean and crisp — my standard for blogging. His comments tend to be maddeningly on point vis-à-vis my personal tastes — making it difficult to omit things.

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Manet’s “Olympia” (1863) set off a nearly riotous scandal when it was first displayed at the 1865 Salon. It resides in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Credit Francois Guillot/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

This peep of history on how Manet’s “Olympia” was received in its day is amusing for what it reveals of the perennial clueless bawling of mobs:

Visitors shouted and bawled… Art students threw punches. Security guards had to be called in… Newspapers published brutal caricatures of Manet… Art critics savaged [the painting] as “vile,” “ugly,” “stupid,” “shameless”….

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“Flowers in a Crystal Vase,” circa 1882. Credit National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

 

Manet had always been an adept of women’s fashion, and “Manet and Modern Beauty” looks carefully at how clothing and accessories work to signal modernity in the artist’s late work.

… Even the curators’ choice of walls of muted rose and dusky lilac signals their embrace of the “feminine” epithet that opponents of the late work once hurled.

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“The Café-Concert,” circa 1879. Jason Farago writes that Manet treated the cafes and parks of Paris as “venues where new life was made from scratch.” Credit The Walters Art Museum.

The received history of modern Western painting… can feel like a succession of attacks on beauty by generations of arrogant men… But Manet knew that there is as much rebellion and insight in a dress, a bouquet or even a pile of strawberries if he could see past their surfaces to the richness within.

(Jason Farago, “Manet’s Last Years: A Radical Embrace of Beauty,” NYTimes, 8-1-19)

(c) 2019 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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