The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Works of Manet and Velazquez make it to MET

The “Manet/Velazquez” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an in-depth pictographic history of what is referred to as “The French Taste of Spanish Painting.”

While Edouard Manet’s relationship to Diego Velazquez characterizes the thesis of the show, an abundance of work by other French and Spanish masters illustrates the breadth of American artists. Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt are included with a handful of American artists to represent the extended impact of painting from Spain’s Golden Age.

This special exhibition is as comprehensive as some of the best critical writing by art historians. Before 1800, Spanish painting had fallen into such obscurity that the entire school was left out of Diderot’s Encyclopedia.

“Manet/Velazquez” spells out how this paradigm shift came to pass and indicates its affect on French artists during the mid-19th century. When Spain fell under French control during the Napoleonic Wars (1808-14), Spanish painting became available to art dealers at exceedingly low prices.

The first room of “Manet/Velazquez” gives us a sense of what this famed Galerie was like, containing many of the works that have since been repatriated to Spain. As we proceed through the exhibit, paintings by French masters indebted to Spain’s Golden Age recall this trench in the Paris Salons of the 1860s. The audience has the unique opportunity to witness this progression, conflated into a single show. Manet eventually journeyed through Spain in 1865 where he visited the Prado Museum in Madrid. Already a great admirer of Velazquez, Manet commented that “The Jester Pablo de Valladolid” (c. 1632-35) was possibly the most extraordinary piece of painting that has ever been done.

If we consider what makes Manet so significant in the history of art, we should find that many of these features are beholden to Velazquez. In the upper right corner of Manet’s “Portrait of Emile Zola” (1863), the artist includes three images that evoke his distinguishing traits as a painter. It is a fitting addition to this portrait since Emile Zola had written in defense of Manet’s heavily criticized work. A Japanese portrait of a sumo wrestler, a print of Velazquez’s “Los Borrachos” and a photograph of his own “Olympia” encapsulate Manet’s style. In this trinity, we find the artist’s flatness, sketch sensibility and off-beat subject matter, all of which shocked the Realism-minded world.

Aside from the flattened space, works like “Olympia” are reminiscent of Velazquez’s attention to the properties of light and willingness to depict figures like dwarves; the sitter for “Olympia” would have been immediately identified as a prostitute and shows up repeatedly as the subject of Manet’s paintings.

On these very grounds, Manet’s “Dejeuner sur l’herbe” was barred from the salon of 1863 and displayed at the Salon des Refuses (Salon of the refused) where it was the topic of considerable debate. Having shaken up the staid constraints of Realism, Manet’s trademark brush-sketch technique helped pave the way for the loosened brushwork of the Impressionists.

The “Manet/Velazquez” show explores a wealth of connections like these through hundreds of painting by Spanish, French and American artists. Because of its size, an initial walk through the galleries would serve the viewer well, so as not to get bogged down at the beginning. If you want to get further acquainted with “Manet/Velazquez,” the museum offers a supplement special feature on its website. The exhibition is scheduled to run until June 8.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

We love comments and feedback, but we ask that you please be respectful in your responses.
All The Torch Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *