Aesthetic theories were born in cafés


Manet had never whole-heartedly adopted the tenets of Impressionism. The juxtaposition of small patches of colour could not satisfy the sensibility of an artist always inclined to the use of those broad planes and large tracts of colour which naturally appeal to a temperament averse from meticulous analysis and minute attention to detail. His manner was broad, swift and forthright; he synthesized. To him much of the theorizing of Impressionism was frankly tedious. His natural facility and virtousity would have been inhabited by any sort of system. Though he never doubted the interest of the new discoveries regarding light, and turned them to account in many admirable canvases, he took much less trouble over his light effects than did the true Impressionists with their elaborate manipulations of pigment. Moreover it is no secret that he was ambitious; J. E. Blanche, who knew him well, once said, "He always works with an eye on the official Salon." But though he turned his back on impressionist theory--one reason being that his training on classical lines prevented him from breaking with the discipline of drawing and precise form-he kept in touch with his friends and often visited the Nouvelle Athènes café.
Though this tradition seems to be dying out, we must not overlook the important part that cafés used to play in the exchange of views between artists and men of letters. In those days most aesthetic theories were born in cafés. Manet, cynosure of youth since the uproar caused by the Salon des Refusés, abandoned in 1866 the fashionable Café de Bade and took to visiting the famous Café Guerbois. Its most active period was 1868-1869 when every Friday evening there gathered around Manet, Astruc, Zola, Duranty, Duret, Guillemet, Braquemond, Bazille, Degas, Constantin Guys, Stevens, Renoir, Nadar the photographer, and, when they were in Paris, Pissarro, Monet and Sisley. To begin with Duranty took the lead at these meetings; then, from his first dramatic appearance, Emile Zola, who launched a strenuous press campaign on behalf of Manet and the young school--though later he abjured them. One wonders if he ever understood his friends, and if he could really appreciate their painting; considering that he once said, "I have no use for that word 'art'; what I want of you is Life." The result was that even well-meaning critics, misled by Zola's dogmatic naturalism, had difficulty in understanding the originality and purely pictorial aspirations of Impressionism.


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