Friday, April 22, 2016

Manet's style from King

Early in 1863 Manet had begun arranging for another showing in the Boulevard des Italiens, this time a one-man exhibition. By the time his exhibition opened, Manet had virtually completed Le Bain following at least four months of work. The canvas had proved as defiant in execution as it had been in conception, since he continued to experiment with the "strange new fashion" that had so astonished onlookers at the 1861 Salon. Manet may have taken the poses for Le Bain from Raphael's The Judgment of Paris, but his admiration for the Old Masters did not extend to their intricately modulated painting techniques. In working toward a new style better suited to capturing the energy and spirit of the modern age, he abandoned chiaroscuro, a technique perfected by Leonardo da Vinci and exploited by successful Salon painters as part of their stock-in-trade. The art of chiaroscuro (Italian for "clear" and "dark") involved giving the appearance of depth and relief to a painting by means of carefully graduated contrasts of light and shade. These soft and subtle nuances in the tonal range may have been adequate for portraying winged angels and toga-clad heroes, but ordinary Parisians on a day's outing to Asnieres required, Manet seems to have decided, quite a different treatment. He therefore did away with most of his half-tones—the transitions between highlights and shadows—such that his figures, particularly the nude Victorine, looked harshly lit. In contrast to her counterpart in The Judgment of Paris, where the contours of the water nymph's body were suggested through skillful hatching, Victorine appeared strangely two-dimensional. Manet also explored his new style by experimenting with his canvases them_ selves. Since an optical illusion makes light colors advance and dark ones re-cede, most artists painted on a dark undercoat in order to enhance the impression of depth and, therefore, the "realistic" appearance of their chosen scene. This undercoat, sometimes referred to as la sauce ("gravy"), was a translucent mixture of linseed oil, turpentine and often bitumen, a tarry hydro-carbon made from distilling crude oil and used in, among other things, the pro-duction of asphalt. Manet had abandoned these dark undercoats after The Absinthe Drinker, working instead on canvases treated with off-white primers. This lighter ground gave Le Bain a greater luminosity—desirable in an out-door scene—but at the expense of the appearance of spatial recession that could be achieved by a painter working on a darker undercoat. Manet was not interested, however, in such illusions of depth, or in creating on his canvas a wholly persuasive fictional space. Painting had other purposes, he clearly be-lieved, than such clever trickery. He further broke with artistic tradition as he worked on Le Bain, once again in a way that seemed designed to shatter the centuries-old obsession with per-spectival space. Painters were usually trained to create a subtle relief on the surface of their canvases by applying their darks and lights in contrasting styles. Dark colors, such as those used for shadows, were spread very thin while highlights were "loaded" or "impasted"—applied, that is, in thick layers. This procedure was employed, together with the darker undercoat, to de-vise a subtle illusion whereby the whites would advance and the darks retreat. Yet Manet boldly disregarded this practice in Le Bain, loading his dark colors—the blacks of the men's coats—as well as the lights. Though a few other painters, such as Gericault and Courbet, had already experimented with this technique, the boldness of Manet's application witnessed his pursuit of a new direction in art.4 Le Bain was completed in good time for Manet to send it for appraisal to the Palais des Champs-Elysees. His other two entries were Mlle V V. . . in the Costume of an Espada and yet another Spanish-style portrait, Young Man in the Costume of a Majo. This latter work, painted early in 1863, featured as its model not a real-life majo, or Spanish dandy, but the youngest of Manet's two brothers, twenty-seven-year-old Gustave, who posed for him in a bolero and white sash taken from Manet's trunkful of Andalusian costumes—an exotic costume for a young man who was, in fact, a lawyer. By the time the three canvases went before the jury, however, Manet's new style of painting had begun receiving a truly ominous reception. A one-man exhibition at the Galerie Martinet was a great honor for Manet, and he offered to public view some of the finest paintings he had completed over the previous few years, including The Street Singer—his first painting of Victorine Meurent—and a number of Spanish-flavored works, including another portrait of Victorine, Young Woman Reclining in a Spanish Costume. He also showed, for the first time in public, Music in the Tuileries (plate 3A), a scene, painted in i86o, of a dense mob of Parisians, including Baudelaire and Gautier, leisurely disporting themselves among the chairs and trees of the Jardin des Tuileries. In the finest tradition of Renaissance frescoists such as Perugino and Raphael, Manet had included his own self-portrait: a bearded and frock-coated figure standing on the left. As a bid to garner public attention, the exhibition was a success. As a bid to sway votes on the painting jury, however, it was a disaster.

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