Poor Manet is sad


"Poor Manet is sad". wrote Berthe Morisot on this occasion. "His exhibition does not please the public taste; and that always astonishes him every time." After such a fulfilment, no further development in this direction was possible. We must mention a portrait of Eva Gonzalès and one or two pictures of a delicate beauty which represent Manet's farewell to this period of his work: the "Lunch in the studio", with the young man wearing a yellow straw-hat (his brother-in-law, Leenhoff) and leaning against a table, a picture dominated by black and grey; and the "Young man with the soap-bubble", in which Manet realizes once again his lovely "blond" grey, and in which the distinction of the drawing testifies once more to the tenderness of a great heart and the impulse of a great soul. The history of the great Manet whom we love and honour, who has enriched our lives by adding to the greatest possessions of mankind, is now over. From now on begins the story of the great virtuoso Manet whose skill we admire.
After Blériot had flown the Channel, and Lindbergh had later emulated him by crossing the Atlantic in a much-improved machine, they both devoted themselves to the technical development of their experiments. The prodigious effort of the achievement itself could not be repeated again. In the same way Manet, after reaching with his "Lola", his "Olympia" and his "Balcony" the heights of ecstasy, of incomparable beauty and of inexhaustible abundance, was obliged to come down to earth again. He too had done something which can be accomplished only once. It is true that there have been masters--for instance Titian and Rembrandt--who succeeded in maintaining the same high level until the end of their lives. But if in their works the highest artistic values remained constantly alive, this was because they were combined with the less sublime plastic and minor artistic values. Their art thus remained in touch with the earth. If in the "Bathsheba", through the juxtaposition of the most beautiful brown and the most beautiful green to be found in the whole Louvre, a perfect melodic value ensues, surpassing everything created by God on earth or by man in the heaven of art, nevertheless the picture retains its earthly side, because this highest value, perceptible only to the competent few, is accompanied, owing to the legend depicted and the expression of the countenance, by the popular values of feeling and expression.
In Manet's great period, however, such values are completely absent. He was interested only in the highest and most difficult values, the great melodic values and after them the values of grey tones. To a smaller extent the values of colour and harmony also interested him. But the values of feeling and expression are locking. His figures, considered as human beings, are uninteresting. Olympia's face is blank; she has nothing to tell us. All human relationship between the figures of the "Déjeuner sur l'herbe" is absent. We feel that the people standing on the balcony do not know each other at all. The soldiers in the painting of Jesus and those in the "Execution of the Emperor Maximilien" are Parisian types who have no spiritual connection with the event depicted. Even the other plastic values are hardly represented. The spatial values are not interesting; everything is crowded together. Movement is completely absent; the pictures are static, the attitudes rigid.
The Manet of this period stood alone in his time. One or two of the great masters of the past might have understood him and have recognized him as one of their peers. The painters of his own time who loved him did so because he painted in light colours and had no shadows in his pictures, and because he inserted colour after colour without transitions. Fundamentally they did not understand him at all. And he for his part did not think much of his friends, the "Impressionists".
Their painting scarcely interested him. He even wanted to avoid making Renoir's acquaintance because he considered his pictures bad. And when he did get to know him, he wanted Manet to try and persuade Renoir to give up painting because he had so little talent for it. He endeavoured at all costs to avoid exhibiting his pictures together with those of Cézanne. Similarly he did his best to avoid exhibiting in common with the other Impressionists. In such circumstances disagreements were inevitable. He felt the difference in rank. What interested him was not their painting, but their experiments--the "plein-air" and the disintegration of colours. For this reason Manet, the most conscientious worker among them, was nearest to him; from him he could learn more than from the others. In the future he would have other means of introducing light into a picture than those he employed in the "Déjeuner sur l'herbe", where the light-coloured nude is like a lamp burning in a dark landscape.
His technical ability mastered the new methods with remarkable rapidity and thoroughness. It might happen that in some of his pictures the tricks of art were greater than the work of art. His position was determined by the works of his first period. The lofty flight which had brought him fame was over, and he could not have attempted it again. The new element which entered his work had nothing to do with what had gone before; it served merely to enlarge the range of his means. With fine intuition Jacques Émile Blanche remarked that for Manet Impressionism and "Plein-air" were not the lightning flashes of divine grace; they helped him to become the great virtuoso in whom the passion for values was replaced by the interest in methods, the great creator giving way to the great organizer of the means at his disposal.


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