Impressionist Still Life

by ;
  • ISBN13:


  • ISBN10:


  • Edition: Illus.
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2001-09-01
  • Publisher: Phillips Collections

Note: Supplemental materials are not guaranteed with Rental or Used book purchases.

Purchase Benefits

  • Free Shipping Icon Free Shipping On Orders Over $35!
    Your order must be $35 or more to qualify for free economy shipping. Bulk sales, PO's, Marketplace items, eBooks and apparel do not qualify for this offer.
  • Logo Get Rewarded for Ordering Your Textbooks! Enroll Now
List Price: $24.95 Save up to $6.24
  • Buy Used


Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?

Table of Contents

Lenders to the Exhibition 7(1)
Preface and Acknowledgments 8(4)
Jay Gates
Malcolm Rogers
Manet: The Significance of Things
Eliza E. Rathbone
Impressionism and the Still-Life Tradition
George T. M. Shackelford
The Makings of Modern Still Life in the 1860s
Jeannene M. Przyblyski
Cezanne's Difference
John McCoubrey
Apples and Abstraction
Richard Shiff
The Paintings
Mary Hannah Byers
Susan Behrends Frank
Jennifer A. Greenhill
Alexandra Ames Lawrence
Eliza E. Rathbone
George T. M. Shackelford
Catalogue with Biographies of the Artists 198(24)
Frequently Cited Bibliographic References 222(1)
Frequently Cited Exhibitions 223(1)
Notes 224(12)
Index 236(4)
Photograph Credits and Copyrights 240


Chapter One


Eliza E. Rathbone

Born of a rich tradition, Manet's still lifes still strike us as new. Their freshness owes something to his original choice of subject, his rare and rich tonalities, and his lively and fluent brushstroke. Yet we also marvel at his freedom from convention and are struck by his economy of means. His images of inanimate objects defy the French term nature morte . For all their direct and vivid translation of reality, however, Manet's still lifes are astonishingly varied, complex, and at times enigmatic. Their complex sources in the art of the past are offset by their utter truth to the present. They are often paintings, within paintings about paintings and yet vividly real. Whether an element of a large composition such as Olympia (Musée d'Orsay, Paris) or The Luncheon (fig. 1) or a "pure" still life, these various objects, flowers, books, fruits, or articles of apparel that Manet imbues with so much life unfailingly command our attention. Their implied significance has mesmerized and challenged many scholars of his work.

    Manet gave still life a new stature. In the mid-nineteenth century, to elevate still life to the importance of historical, literary, or religious subjects constituted in itself a radical move and indicated a desire to dismantle the hierarchies of the past. It was a "modern" thing to do. As a leader of the artists who created the "new painting," Manet's position is critical to any investigation of Impressionist still life. On the other hand, still life was not a subject to which the Impressionists themselves devoted most of their time and energy. For Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Morisot, Renoir, and Bazille, still life constituted a small percentage of their oeuvres, and they approached it in much the same way they did landscape or portraiture. Manet, however, devoted approximately one-fifth of his painting to pure still life and included it as a key element in numerous figure compositions. He transformed the role of still life in painting. Inspired by artists both from the past as well as from the present, he drew on multifarious examples to create a new synthesis of old and new that had far-reaching consequences. Having primarily focused on still life in the 1860s, the decade when he was keenly affected by Spanish painting, he returned to still life during the last years of his life before he died in 1883.

    Why did Manet attach such importance to still life, and how was still life transformed in his work into an expression of the modern? Manet's art education consisted of a mix of traditional and innovative strategies manifested in the work of his teacher Thomas Couture. While Couture used pure color and a spontaneous brushstroke, his subjects were often drawn from history or mythology. For six years, 1850-56, Manet studied in Couture's studio where he must have learned from him at the very least a healthy respect for past masters as well as the goal of exhibiting at the Salon. At the same time, he constantly found himself at odds with Couture's instruction. Of his years in Couture's studio, he is reputed to have said, "I feel as though I am entering a tomb." In the 1850s antiquity provided a constant frame of reference for artists and the Prix de Rome was considered the ultimate honor. As a subject for painting, still life had come to hold a position of least importance. By the 1860s, however, still life was an increasingly popular subject, whether for the rank and file or for artists submitting to the Salon, so much so that one journalist called the Salon of 1863 a veritable "garden." These still lifes were for the most part far from radical and by painters who were never destined to change the course of art. The history of still life in France, which was paralleled in the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy, comprised themes from flowers and fruit to hunting, fishing, and military trophies, from vanitas or momento mori to the attributes of the arts and of sciences. Still life varied from the purely decorative to subjects laden with meaning. While sometimes lavish and splendid, as a genre it tended toward the impersonal or intellectual. Where symbolism was involved, it tended to refer to abstract ideas or concepts.

    An aspect of Manet's achievement lay in his ability to counter both the decorative and the symbolic traditions. He found in still life the potential for a vivid transcription of reality as well as the opportunity for specific and personal associative meaning. In addition to Chardin, whose still-life painting is the most obvious source of inspiration to still-life artists in mid-nineteenth-century France, other artists outside the French tradition were of particular relevance to Manet. His sources of inspiration extended to the work of artists better known for human subjects, like Titian and Velázquez. Any investigation of still life in Manet's work, therefore, quickly leads to a consideration of his larger compositions with figures. Scholars as well as critics of Manet's own time have often found in his large compositions a provocative relationship between the figures and the objects that accompany them. Who can forget the rich collagelike disarray of papers, books, and prints in Manet's portrait of Emile Zola (fig. 8), or the curious arrangement on a stool that accompanies Théodore Duret in his portrait by Manet (fig. 7), or the extraordinarily disparate collection of still life objects in The Luncheon (fig. 1). The literature on the subject of Manet's still life testifies to the artist's powers of invention as well as to the complexity of his stance vis-à-vis painting in his own time.

    Throughout the 1860s Manet's work was constantly the subject of ridicule and criticism. In the course of that decade, however, his talent as a painter of still life became increasingly recognized, and by 1872 this reputation had become sufficiently established for him to be considered an artist who excelled at this genre. As Louis Leroy wrote of Manet's Salon submission of 1872, "it is regrettable that Manet has not just exhibited one of his still lifes which, by exception, he does very well." In the face of Emile Zola's staunch support for Manet's painting, other critics writing for the Gazette des beaux-arts consistently denied his abilities as a painter of portraits or the human figure, accusing him of rendering his subjects with indifference and a cold lack of humanity--attributes they considered much more suitably addressed to the subject of still life. Of his portrait of Emile Zola, exhibited at the Salon of 1868, the critic Paul Mantz observed that the principal interest lay in the drawings on the wall and called the portrait itself "indifferent and vague." Odilon Redon described it as more of a still life than an expression of a human character. The enormously influential critic Théophile Thoré acutely observed that Manet "sometimes bestows even more importance on a bouquet of flowers than on a woman's face," and went on to remark that Manet's problem was that he painted everything "uniformly, furniture, carpets, books."

    When Manet's The Balcony and The Luncheon were shown at the Salon of 1869, Mantz deplored the lack of apparent narrative in the former ("One doesn't quite know what these good people are doing on the balcony") and described the work as "devoid of thought," having "almost as much interest as a still life." Likewise, the more sympathetic Jules Castagnary wrote of Manet's The Luncheon , "I see on a table where coffee has been served, a half-peeled lemon and some fresh oysters; these objects hardly go together. Why were they put there? ... because Manet possesses in the highest degree, a feeling for the colored spot; because he excels in reproducing what is inanimate, and that, feeling himself superior in still lifes, he finds himself naturally brought to do as many as possible."

    Appreciation of Manet as a still-life painter was, therefore, linked to the formal or abstract properties of his painting. His "feeling for the colored spot" originally pointed out by his champion Zola directed attention away from aspects of the work related to content or meaning, and allowed critics to praise him for excelling "in reproducing what is inanimate." For those who largely disparaged his achievement, this "talent," while recognized, also relegated his work to a lesser category of success.

    Manet's elevation of still life to a status equal to the figure, while not well understood or appreciated in his own time, seems not only an essential underlying principle of his work but also central to his concept of the modern. Still life achieves its stature in his work by his highly selective approach and by the specificity of the objects he paints. He invites the viewer to find meaning in them. What distinguishes Manet's painting Portrait of M. and Mme Auguste Manet (1860, Musée d'Orsay, Paris), for example, from being simply a double portrait is the vivid presence of a basket in which the artist's mother buries her hand. In creating this unusual portrait (fig. 2), it seems quite possible that Manet drew upon his experience of copying Titian's Madonna of the Rabbit (1530) (fig. 3) in the Louvre. Couture enjoined his students to study the Venetians, and a number of paintings by Manet manifest his love of Venetian painting. In Titian's painting the kneeling figure of the Madonna places her hand on a rabbit while on the ground beside her rests a basket, beautifully rendered. It would appear that Manet has conflated the prominent gesture of the Madonna and the very real, concrete, and particular presence of the basket to make parallel use of an object in order to bring his image into the present, and into the material world of his own time. Even the shawl that gently covers the Madonna's head seems echoed in Manet's portrait, of which Françoise Cachin has remarked that "all the vitality seems to be concentrated in the luxuriant detail--the basket of yarn, the white linen, the blue satin of the mother's bonnet ribbon." It is in fact the basket of yarn that relates the two figures to each other and that provides the bright notes of color in the painting. Perhaps predictably, when it was shown at the Salon of 1861, the critics denounced Manet's realistic portrayal of his parents as heartless.

    Manet's readiness to borrow or make allusions in still life is perhaps nowhere more readily apparent than in his stunning response to Chardin in The Brioche (1870) (fig. 5), a painting directly inspired by Chardin's painting by the same title (1763) (fig. 4), acquired by the Louvre in 1869. Manet replaces the eighteenth-century master's delicate sprig of orange blossom that crowns the pastry with a pink rose of breathtaking beauty, and counters Chardin's carefully modulated surrounding tones with a brilliant white fringed napkin. Such a bravura response to the master so universally admired would not be attempted by other contemporary emulators of Chardin like Philippe Rousseau or François Bonvin. Rather than entering Chardin's world, Manet, in effect, invites Chardin into his. His innovations--a fringed napkin and the elegant table--ask us to consider Chardin's brioche in a modern setting: the fashionable Paris of the Second Empire. Similarly the heap of contemporary clothing and hat of the still life in Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863, Musée d'Orsay, Paris) bring the nude inspired by Titian's Concert champêtre (ca. 1510, Musée du Louvre, Paris) from classical Arcadia into the contemporary world in the naked persona of Manet's own quite recognizable model, Victorine Meurent. Whether figures or still life, Manet's images, couched in tradition, speak to the new and the current. In every sense Manet's contemporaneity reflects the sophisticated, well-read, well-connected Parisian we know him to have been.

    It is not only the up-to-date or fashionable objects Manet chooses to include in his paintings that bring them into the modern world but also his means of describing them--means that were inspired in part by the recent revival of interest in Dutch and Spanish painting. Although in the 1850s Manet had toured Europe to see the great collections of Amsterdam, Anvers, Brussels, Haarlem, Dresden, Basel, Florence, and Venice, several factors in the 1860s brought him the opportunity for an intensified exposure to Spanish painting. Foremost among these factors were the expansion of the Louvre, the new availability of train travel to Spain, and the significant increase in published articles on Spanish art. The 1850s saw the addition of new wings to the Louvre and the renovation and reinstallation of many galleries, culminating in the opening by Louis-Napoléon of the "New Louvre" in 1857. The succeeding decade saw many new acquisitions to the collections. Manet frequented the Spanish galleries of the Louvre. He also had the opportunity to see works by Velázquez (or at least attributed to him) at the Galerie Martinet in Paris in 1863.

    Although Spanish painting was virtually unknown in France until the early to mid-nineteenth century, in the early 1860s an increasing number of articles on both Goya and Velázquez began to appear. In the Gazette des beauxarts , its editor Charles Blanc followed the review of the 1863 Salon with the article "Velázquez in Madrid," recounting his own recent trip and including a ringing accolade: "Truth, that is Velázquez's inseparable companion, that is his muse." Blanc admired Velázquez's constant consultation of nature, his "master," and he applauded his realism. Historian as well as critic, Théophile Thoré (as W. Bürger, a name he assumed in the 1850s), collaborated on the French edition of William Stirling's Velázquez and His Works , which was published in France in 1865. In this volume he asserts that he considers Velázquez greater than Titian, Correggio, Rubens, and Rembrandt--describing him as "today, not only in France but in the world the most prodigious painter who ever lived." It was not only Velázquez's truth to nature the critics admired but his technique, his "touch." Thoré praised his handling of paint, and wrote that "one could count the brushstrokes and follow them in all their directions." In sum, Thoré (as Bürger) considered Velázquez the greatest painter who ever lived, admiring his approach to painting, which had been described as peint de premier coup . Thoré, who reviewed the Salons for most of the 1860s, advocated painting for its own sake, claiming that aesthetic value lay not so much in the subject as in the means chosen to express it. He had been one of Manet's earliest and most thoughtful reviewers, speaking out in support of his work in 1864. While Thoré believed that Manet was fundamentally influenced by Velázquez and Goya, he also praised his "qualities of a magician, luminous effects, flamboyant hues." In addition to Thoré, Manet's friend Théophile Gautier expressed similar views in 1861: "The arts teach and moralize by their beauty alone, not by translating a philosophical or social formula. For the truly artistic person, painting has only itself as its purpose, which is quite enough." The very critics who extolled art for art's sake also expounded on the genius of Velázquez and created a context for seeing his art as directly relevant to any investigation of reality and truth to nature.

    The excitement over Spanish painting seemed to reach a peak in 1865, the year when Gautier wrote, "If you haven't been to Madrid, you don't know this astonishing artist ... Velázquez alone makes the trip worthwhile." Speaking practically, he advises, "now that the train makes it easy to cross the Pyrenees, our young artists would do well to go there to study." Manet, who had studied at length the only works by Velázquez in the Louvre, including a work no longer attributed to him called The Little Cavaliers , had exhausted the resources at hand. To go to Spain became for him an idée fixe . In August 1865 Manet wrote to his friend Zacharie Astruc, whose familiarity with Spanish language, art, and culture was extensive, that he was leaving for Spain "immediately, the day after tomorrow, perhaps; I am extremely eager to see so many beautiful things and to ask the advice of Master Velázquez." From Spain Manet wrote to Fantin-Latour, "How I miss you here and how happy it would have made you to see Velázquez who all by himself makes the journey worthwhile.... He is the supreme artist; he didn't surprise me, he enchanted me." Astruc had provided an itinerary and bountiful advice about where to go and what to see. Manet met Théodore Duret, who was to become a friend for the rest of his life, in a restaurant in Madrid. In the portrait Manet painted of Duret three years later in Paris (fig. 7), Manet's stylistic references to portraits by Velázquez and Goya reflect their shared experience and their mutual admiration for Spanish painting. We even know that they visited the Prado together, signing their names in the guest book. In his portrait of Duret, Manet directly quoted Goya's full-length portrait of Manuel Lapeña. Interestingly enough, the small size of Duret's portrait was Duret's own suggestion, while the fact that he is depicted full length was Manet's idea. In this painting Manet does not locate Duret in the real world but in a pictorial space, where nothing but light and air circulate around the figure, an approach Manet admired in Velázquez.


Excerpted from Impressionist Still Life by ELIZA E. RATHBONE AND GEORGE T.M. SHACKELFORD. Copyright © 2001 by The Phillips Collection. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Rewards Program

Write a Review