Manet and Modern Beauty Offers Feminist Visions of Women

manet

Unlike Monet, Manet is not a household name yet his contribution to art is equally, if not more, revolutionary.

Regarded as the father of modern art, Édouard Manet had eight years on his friend Claude Monet and was key to the transition from Realism to Impressionism. His Boating, 1874-1875 (not to be confused with Monet’s The Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881) is one of 90 pieces featured in Manet and Modern Beauty.

Presented by the Art Institute of Chicago and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Manet and Modern Beauty is the first exhibition to focus exclusively on the artist’s last years. In addition to his paintings, pastels and works on paper, the show includes Henri Fantin-Latour’s 1867 portrait of Manet. More significant, however, are Manet’s seasonal portraits: Jeanne (Spring), 1881 and Autumn (Méry Laurent), 1882.

Like the artist/model Victorine-Louise Meurent featured in his early masterworks (Olympia and The Luncheon on the Grass, 1863) and Impressionist Berthe Morisot who Manet painted throughout much of his career, Autumn’s Méry Laurent and Spring’s Jeanne de Marsy were self-made women. The former was a courtesan and the latter was the daughter of a book-binder who gained a type of independence by acting and modeling (she’s in Manet’s last masterpiece A Bar at the Folies-Bergères, 1882). In other words, Jeanne was no wallflower despite her floral image hanging on the wall.

“Manet’s late work portrays a distinctly modern vision and a new way of seeing women,” observes Artist Patter Hellstrom, who serves as an art consultant and corporate curator in Chicago and on the east and west coasts. “His contemporary minded compositions are realized with fashionable floral patterned clothing blended with the floral background as seen in Jeanne (Spring). 

“The paint strokes describe a mix of patterns while Jeanne’s face stands out—confident, in control, a woman independent of a man’s approval,” continues Hellstrom. “Referred to as Manet’s Mona Lisa, Jeanne is not invested in the male viewer’s gaze but rather steeped in her own thoughts.”

The same can be said of Plum Brandy, also included in the show. The woman pictured isnt as posh as Jeanne but she’s just as pensive, during a time when women were second-class citizens deemed too inferior to make important decisions.

“What is so remarkable about Manet’s final years is how creative he managed to be in spite of his rapidly declining health,” notes Scott Allan, Associate Curator of Paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Manet’s last works are among the most gorgeous and vibrant he painted but also, given his personal circumstances, the most poignant, and they reveal a more intimately human side of an artist so often lionized as one of the great heroes and rebels of modern art.”

Manet and Modern Beauty is on view through Sept. 8, 2019 at the Art Institute of Chicago. It will be at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles from Oct. 8, 2019 through Jan. 12, 2020.

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Images: Édouard Manet’s Plum Brandy, circa 1877; and Jeanne (Spring), 1881, courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Ms. Arvia is a freelance writer, former filmmaker, artist and Janet-of-all-trades who is pleased to serve as Arts & Culture Editor on our magazine since she’s always been Rebellious.