Progression of Art
Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe
As the primary talking point of the Salon des Refuses in 1863, it is fairly clear to see why this canvas shocked the bourgeois patrons and the Emperor himself. Manet's composition is influenced by the Renaissance artist Giorgione and by Raimondi's engraving of the Judgment of Paris after Raphael, but these influences are fractured by his disregard for perspective and his use of unnatural light sources. But it was the presence of an unidealized female nude, casually engaged with two fashionably dressed men, that was the focus of the most public outrage. Her gaze confronts the viewer on a sexual level, but through her Manet confronts the public as well, challenging its ethical and aesthetic boundaries.
Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay
Representing a lower-class prostitute, Manet's Olympia confronts the bourgeois viewer with a hidden, but well-known, reality. Purposefully provocative, it shocked the viewers of the 1865 Salon. Olympia's references to Titan's Venus of Urbino (1538) and Goya's Maja Desnuda (1799-1800) fit easily into the traditional "boudoir" genre, yet they culminate in a rather informal and individual portrait of a woman unashamed of her body. It is popularly thought that Olympia is a pictorial depiction of passages from Baudelaire's famous collection of poems called Les Fleurs du Mal (1857). For instance, Manet rather overtly includes a black cat, symbolizing heightened sexuality and prostitution - a characteristically Baudelarian symbol.
Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay
The Battle of the USS "Kearsarge" and the CSS "Alabama"
Since his days as a Merchant Marine, Manet was always fascinated with the sea. This unusual canvas was inspired by text and photographic accounts of the American Civil War battle which occurred off the coast of Cherbourg, where the Union ship Kearsarge sank the Confederate ship Alabama. While there is nothing revolutionary in representing contemporary scenes of ocean battles, the traditional panoramic view is skewed by an elevated vantage point, as if the scene was recorded from the mast of an observing ship. The composition is rather flat with little gradation in color of the ocean to show distance, similar to a Japanese print.
Oil on canvas - Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian
France was shocked by the execution of Maximilian of Austria, Emperor of Mexico, on June 19, 1867. The politics behind Napoleon III's withdrawal of troops from Mexico also outraged the public. This canvas is clearly a nod to Goya's similar execution scene in The Third of May 1808 (1814). Manet was a devout Republican and was keenly influenced by political events, and here he sought to record contemporary events like a grand history painter, but with his own modern vision. However, the painting's subject matter was too sensitive to be exhibited at the time, especially with the overt implication of Napoleon III's culpability by dressing Maximilian in a sombrero and the soldiers in French uniforms. The Romantic spirit and muted tones create a distinctly somber, yet immediate scene.
Oil on canvas - Kunsthalle, Mannheim
Manet painted many works based on his visits to Argenteuil where he and Renoir often visited Monet. The flatness of the background was created by filling its entirety with water, making the boat's shape the painting's only sense of space. Manet often took advantage of the light on the river Seine early in the morning, on his "floating studio" specifically built for this purpose. Evidence of the influence of his Impressionist friends can be seen in the quick, fluid brushstrokes of the woman's dress.
Oil on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
A Bar at the Folies-Bergere
This melancholic café scene is undoubtedly Manet's last masterpiece. The Folies-Bergere was a popular café concert for a fashionable and diverse crowd. The lively bar scene is reflected in the mirror behind the central figure, the sad bar girl. Her beautiful, tired eyes avoid contact with the viewer - who also plays a double role as the customer in this scene. Much has been made of the faulty perspective from the reflection in the mirror, but this was evidently part of Manet's interest in artifice and reality. On the marble countertop is an exquisite still-life arrangement of identifiable bottles of beer and liquor, flowers, and mandarins, all of which anticipate the still lifes of his final two years of life.
Oil on canvas - The Courtauld Institute Galleries, London