Lola de Valence


All these he pointed, and they form a kind of halo round that priceless and decisive work, the first by his hand which may be regarded and interpreted as a "sacred text": the "Lola de Valence".
Let us consider this picture as we now see it in the Camondo Collection at the Louvre. Originally it had a neutral background. Manet added the background of dark theatrical scenery later. But it is this background, in its relationship to the rest, which heightens the quality of the picture, which gives it an additional value, difficult to achieve and seldom realized, to be found only in the works of the greatest masters. In order to understand in what this value consists, let us compare the picture with two others which hang close-by. One is a stable scene with horses fighting, by Delacroix, the other is Corot's celebrated picture of a studio. Two different kinds of artistic values are realized in these. In the Delacroix we find firm colour values of green, reddish-brown and grey-white which blend together to form a complete harmonic value. In the Corot there is an abundance of grey tones, of regal descent, for their history begins with Titian and they were bequeathed to the divine family of the elect. Both these categories of artistic values are to be found in abundance and variety in the "Lola de Valence". The dress is a harmony of black, green and red; in the upper part of the garment delicate pink and light blue are brought into accord with the red of the coral necklace. But the abundance of greys is overwhelming; they are introduced in the veil and the transparent wrap, and their effect is heightened by the grey of the floor and the shoe-ribbons and by the Corot-esque grey of the fan.
But in addition to these values of colour, harmony and grey tones, there is another value present in the "Lola de Valence" which is lacking in the Delacroix and the Corot. In order to determine it, let us suppose that the colours in a picture do not tend towards one another, do not achieve reciprocal determination or blend to form a harmony, but retain their own independence and, without making any concessions, are placed beside a grey tone which, relying on its own beauty, likewise maintains its independence in the picture.
There is such a picture in the Louvre, a still-life by Chardin, usually ignored and hung rather high, in which with almost the same colours as in the above-mentioned stable picture something essentially different has been achieved. In this Chardin the green of a cabbage-head and the brownish red of a piece of raw meat do not blend to form a harmony with the grey of the table-cloth. For as this grey is not, as it is in Delacroix, a colour, a derivation from white, but stands in the picture like an isolated costly object as an absolute grey tone value, it follows that the green and red likewise retain an independent existence. Instead of blending and harmony we have a contrast, which gives rise to a polyphonic melodic value. (Just as, in music, sounds which are suited to one another may occur together without combining and exist side-by-side.) This some value is found in the "Lola de Valence", where the grey, touched with pink, of the wrap, which is of considerable length and passes round the head, exists sideby-side with the sometimes greyish, sometimes brownish black of the background of theatrical scenery. It is also found at the critical point where the grey of the curtain is contrasted with the black of the dress.
If the values of colour and harmony delight our senses, and the grey tones give us inward satisfaction, the great melodic values such as we find here have the power to provide us with a vital experience, to elevate and impress our minds. It is thus possible to assign an order to such values, provided each of them is realized on an equally high level.
To sum up our impressions of the "Lola de Valence", we perceive that the greatness of Manet is due not to the luminosity and lightness of his pictures, but to the beauty of his values of colour and harmony, to the striking distinction of his abundant grey tone values, and above all to the great melodic values, the sublimest that painting can create and accessible in their highest degree only to the very greatest artists.


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