The Art Institute of Chicago – Manet and Modern Beauty

All pictures were taken by the author during his visit to The Art Institute of Chicago. Texts sourced from exhibit label scripts and museum audio guide.

Original draft as of September 7, 2019.

Édouard Manet, Boating, 1874-75

Manet painted Boating in 1874, the same year the Impressionists organized their first exhibition. Unlike many Impressionist works, Boating was not painted outdoors to capture a fleeting moment; Manet actually reworked significant sections in his studio.

Édouard Manet, The Café-Concert, 1878-79

Manet packed this slice-of-life scene to the point of confusion, layering customers, the waitstaff, and a performer’s reflection within the limited frame. The barmaid is drinking beer and the idea that she is taking time away from her job and patrons seems incredibly modern. Manet very likely made quick sketches on the spot and reworked it back in his studio, as a result of a more calculated method. With this Manet announced himself in a strong way at the Vie Moderne gallery in 1880 as a painter of modern life.

Édouard Manet, Still Life with Oysters and Champagne, 1876-78

This exuberant still life features a plate of oysters, a bottle of champagne, and their various accessories. The subject (especially the Japanese fan) and daringly cropped composition, and fluid paint handling signal Manet’s fashionable modernity.

Édouard Manet, Nude Arranging Her Hair, 1878-79

This picture of a woman fixing her hair speaks to Manet’s interest in the activities and accouterments of women’s grooming and styling. Unfinished and unsigned, it was purchased by Berthe Marisot after Manet’s death.

Édouard Manet, Portrait of Madame Manet in the Conservatory, 1876-79

Manet’s sympathetic portrayal of his wife Suzzanne. However, the surface of the painting is strikingly different from contemporaneous depictions of chic young Parisiennes. Like all of Manet’s late portrait of Suzzanne, the painting remained a private work, was retained by the artist’s widow until financial circumstances forced her to sell it.

Édouard Manet, In the Conservatory, 1877-79

In the Conservatory presents a richly ambiguous scene: the two figures’ left hands almost touch. It also remains unclear whether Manet painted the couple in an actual conservatory or created a semblance of one expressly for this and other paintings of this period. This painting was exhibited with Boating at the 1879 Salon, where the two formed a modern pair.

While this painting presents slushy environment and all elements of romance and flirtations, you find it suggests something else, not caring, and indifference. The end result is so narrative but at the same time unyielding in its narrative. Although this painting did not give Manet the universal praise when exhibited in 1879, it becomes foundational for a lot of his later works.

Édouard Manet, Woman Reading, 1880-82

While the mug of beer and the wooden bar attached to the reader’s illustrated journal suggest a Parisian cafe, the scene was in fact composed in Manet’s studio. The backdrop is not a real garden at all, but one of Manet’s own paintings. By 1880, Manet has become less mobile due to illness, and can no longer make it out to the cafes, parks and other Parisian scenes. Instead he resorted to recreating the scenes in his studio.

The woman reading is a modern woman; she has a mug of beer, she is by herself, and she is concentrated in possibly what she is gonna to consume next. Manet said this is the type he would like to show in all his beauty and all of their grace and glamour.

Édouard Manet, The Promenade (Madame Gamby), 1880-81

The model poses in near profile against an artificial verdant backdrop. The composition recalls Manet’s other pictures of fashionable Parisiennes in flowery settings.

Édouard Manet, My Garden (The Bench), 1881

Manet painted this sun-drenched picture in summer 1881. His bright palette and exuberant brushwork create a scene that hardly qualifies as hideous — which is how he described his own garden. Manet is largely confined to the house during this period, discouraged by his illness and frustrated by perpetual bad weather.

Édouard Manet, Still Life with Brioche, 1880

A lighthearted still life. This brings together several of Manet’s favorite motifs. The hat-like egg-washed bread sits askew on a porcelain plat. His wife’s cat, Zizi, emerges from the right edge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.