Manet and the full beauty of his work


Several years were to pass before Manet's hand gave birth to a "sacred text" which it will be our task to consider and interpret. For his experiences in the Louvre still dominated his mind and he could not free himself from them in a day. Nevertheless in many of his pictures from this period we can detect elements, from the totality of which the high quality of his personality was to emerge. He painted a portrait of Antonin Proust, whom he had known as a child at the Collège Rollin and afterwards at Couture's studio, the same who subsequently, as Minister of Fine Arts, often gave him friendly assistance. He also painted the "Absinthe-Drinker", on seeing which Couture exclaimed: "There is only one absinthe-drinker, and that's the man who painted this idiotic picture." He painted the "Child with the cherries" and the "Concert in the Tuileries Gardens", one of the most precious documents we possess concerning the Second Empire, in which he himself, Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier all figure.
He painted the portrait of his parents, in which some have seen the influence of Frans Hals, a picture in which the dominating element of the grey tone already makes a victorious appearance. In 1861 he painted the "Child with a sword" and in the following year the "Vagrant Musicians", before which we used to sit so often before the war, to drink in its exhilarating and at the same time tranquillizing browns, just as we used to go sometimes to the Gallimard Collection to enjoy the grey of a little still-life of oysters which he painted one year before. Grey now begins to appear in many variations in his pictures, from the stately dark tone to the grey in his "Street Singer", which Zola called "soft and blond". From now on this "blond" grey of Manet's will take its place beside the luminous grey of Titian, the severe Spanish grey of Ribera, the aristocratic grey of Velázquez, and the many others characteristic of Guardi, Lenain, Chardin and Corot. An essential element of his art was thus added to the others, and several pictures of this period, such as the portrait of Victorine Meurend and the "Young man with a dog", already display in a perfect form the pure artistic physiognomy of Manet and the full beauty of his work.
Wandering troupes of Spanish singers and dancers provided him with models for pictures in Spanish costumes. He felt more and more kinship with Velázquez, El Greco and Goya. He painted a Spanish ballet, a matador saluting the crowd, a young woman in toreador costume, a young man dressed as Majo, the guitarrist, which brought him an honourable mention from the committee of the Salon.


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