Manet: Controversy and Skepticism
Édouard Manet (1832–1883) was a realist painter and an impressionist painter. His works have a considerable sense of reality and pay great attention to depicting the details of the characters, so he is classified as a realist school. Simultaneously, although his works’ themes are derived from reality, they are higher than fact, so they are classified as impressionist painters.
《草地上的野餐》是马奈的成名之作。画面中一个裸体女子与两个身着正装的男子一同在草地上野餐，在他们前方堆放着女子的衣物和一些食物，在他们的身后还有一位在小溪边的女子。画面中的四个人物神态举止都十分自然，裸体女子似乎正与观众对视，两个男子正在进行交谈，溪边的女子似在戏水，自得其乐。但这样的画面并非写实绘画，更像是艺术家个人的自由声明 — — 绘画可以在技巧上创新，更可以在主题上进行突破。
“Le Déjeuner sur I’herbe” is one of Manet’s most famous works. In the picture, a naked woman and two men in formal attire are having a picnic on the grass. Women’s clothing and some food are stacked in front of them. Behind them, there is a woman by the stream. The four characters in the picture are all very natural, the naked woman seems to be looking at the audience, the two men are talking, and the woman by the stream appears to be playing in the water, enjoying herself. But this kind of picture is not a realistic painting. It is more like the artist’s personal statement of freedom — artwork can be innovative in technique and can also make breakthroughs in themes.
“Olympia” is an imitation of Titian’s “Venus of Urbino”, but this painting caused skepticism as soon as it was published. The controversy caused by the picture even exceeded that of “Le Déjeuner sur I’herbe.” The reason is that Manet turned the goddess Venus into a prostitute. In the painting, the orchid on the naked woman’s head, the pearls on the ears, the black velvet necklace on the neck, the golden bracelet on the wrist, the shawl with oriental characteristics and wealth under her, and the golden slippers on her feet. The prostitute’s features, her posture, and the black cat in the picture (symbolizing promiscuity at the time) also seemed to be a sexual suggestion. More importantly, there was a prostitute named “Olympia” in Paris in the 1860s.
In addition, the black maid around Olympia is also a major controversy in this painting. This painting was created 15 years after the abolition of slavery in France, but the contrast of black and white, Olympia’s arrogance, and servant’s lowliness seems to be another insinuation to the negative stereotype of blacks.
“Un bar aux Folies Bergere” depicts the scene in the Goddess Hall of a Paris nightclub. A waitress stood alone at the bar, with empty eyes and a tired expression. The mirror behind her reflected the crowd and the hustle and bustle of the bar. In the upper left corner of the mirror, you can also see acrobats performing for guests. Although the hostess is in a packed crowd, she is completely isolated. Her loneliness and others’ excitement have formed an extreme contrast, becoming the theme and a highlight of this painting.
Manet has received many polarized comments throughout his life and yet has always insisted on painting, leaving many precious works for France and the world.