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December 2013


Manet: Portraying Life

Posted February 19, 2013 by artBahrain in Museums

Royal Academy of Arts - London, UK
Until 14 April 2013

The Royal Academy of Arts presents the first major exhibition in the UK to showcase Édouard Manet’s portraiture. The exhibition examines the relationship between Manet’s portrait painting and his scenes of modern life. By translating portrait sitters into actors in his genre scenes, Manet guarantees the authenticity of the figures that populate his genre paintings and asserts a new, more potent relationship between Realism and Modernity. Manet: Portraying Life will include over 50 paintings spanning the career of this archetypal modern artist together with a selection of pastels and contemporary photographs. It will bring together works from both public and private collections across Europe, Asia and the USA.


Edouard Manet. The Railway, 1873 Oil on canvas, 93.3 x 111.5 cm National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer, 1956.10.1 Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Edouard Manet. The Railway, 1873
Oil on canvas, 93.3 x 111.5 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer, 1956.10.1
Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington


The exhibition will be arranged thematically, exploring Manet’s world and the landscape of nineteenth-century Parisian society. Different sections will focus on The Artist and his Family – Manet, Suzanne Leenhof Manet and Léon Koëlla Leenhof; Manet and his Artist Friends including Berthe Morisot, Eva Gonzalès and Claude Monet; Manet and his Literary and Theatrical Friends such as Emile Zola, Zacharie Astruc, Théodore Duret, George Moore, Stéphane Mallarmé and Fanny Claus; Status Portraits including Georges Clemenceau, Henri Rochefort and Antonin Proust, and finally, The Artist and his Models which will encompass both female friends such as Méry Laurent and Isabelle Lemonnier as well as professional models, such as Victorine Meurent.

Highlights will include The Luncheon, 1868 (Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen–NeuePinakothek, Munich), depicting Léon, the son of Manet’s wife; Mme Manet in the Conservatory, 1879 (The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo); Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets, 1872 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), Street Singer, c.1862 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, c.1863-68 (The Courtauld Gallery, London), The Railway, 1873 (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Music in the Tuileries Gardens, 1862 (The National Gallery, London) which brings together the literary and theatrical friends of the artist.

Édouard Manet was born in Paris in 1832 into a middle-class family. His father Auguste, was a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Justice, and his mother, Eugénie-Désirée, the daughter of a diplomat. Manet enlisted in the merchant marine and travelled to South America in 1848. A year after his return to Paris in 1849, he entered the studio of the successful salon artist Thomas Couture and for the next six years, he pursued training within and beyond Couture’s studio. Exposure to contemporary art came through the Paris Salon and independent exhibitions. In 1863, Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff, a talented pianist and the mother of Léon Koëlla Leenhoff, who became part of the Manet family but whose paternity remains uncertain. His younger brother, Eugène, married the artist Berthe Morisot in 1874. Manet’s independence of style, individuality of subject matter and seemingly non-conventional technique meant that his exhibition career was fraught with rejection and on-going negative critical response. However, despite supporting his younger contemporaries, the Impressionists, and observing closely their own innovative approach to subject matter and technique, he resolutely refused to exhibit with them in the eight Impressionist exhibitions (1874–1886).

Throughout his life, Manet surrounded himself with a wide circle of friends, admirers and supporters from the artistic, literary and musical communities – all of whom professed leanings towards the more radical movements of the day; they defended his art and served as sitters for his portraits. Manet’s career as a professional artist lasted less than three decades, cut short by his premature death in 1883 at the age of 51.

Michael Cole-Fontayn, Chairman of Europe, Middle East and Africa, BNY Mellon said,

“Manet: Portraying Life is the first exhibition to examine in-depth how Manet translated portrait sitters into actors in his scenes of everyday French life. As the official Partner of the Royal Academy of Arts and a major advocate of arts education around the world, BNY Mellon is thrilled to support the RA in bringing this insightful body of work to London. We think this will be an exceptional and intriguing exhibition for both longstanding Manet fans and those studying the masters of impressionism.”


Manet: Portraying Life has been organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in collaboration with the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. The exhibition has been curated by MaryAnne Stevens, Director of Academic Affairs, Royal Academy of Arts and Dr Larry Nichols, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.

Manet: Portraying Life will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring essays by leading scholars working in the fields specific to Édouard Manet, portraiture and photography, and the issues surrounding the definition and application of such terms as Realism, Naturalism and ‘modern life’. Authors include Carol Armstrong, Colin Bailey, Stéphane Guegan, and Leah Lehmbeck.

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