‘Manet ~ The Man Who Invented Modern Art’ at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris

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artwork:  Édouard Manet - "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère", 1882 - Oil on canvas - 96 x 130 cm. - Collection of Courtauld Institute Galleries, London. On view at the Musee D'Orsay as part of the 'Manet: Inventor of the Modern" from April 5th to July 3rd 2011.


Paris.- The Musee d’Orsay presents “Manet, The man Who Invented Modern Art” from 5th April 2011 – 3rd July 2011. More than a one man retrospective for Edouard Manet (1832-1883), the exhibition explores and highlights the historical situation around him, including the reaffirmed legacy of Romanticism, the impact of his contemporaries and the changes in the media at the time. The exhibtion includes a reconstruction of his exhibition at the Gallery La Vie moderne, organised in March-April 1880 at the start of the Salon, and raises the question finally of what “the freedom to create” meant to him. As well as works from the Musee d’Orsay’s own collection, the exhibtion features numerous loans from other museums and private collectors.

There has been no exhibition exclusively devoted to Édouard Manet in France since 1983, the date of the memorable retrospective produced by Françoise Cachin and Charles S. Moffett. In the ensuing twenty-five years, however, there has been much valuable research and fruitful reflection. A rejection of formalism and a return to history, personal as well as collective, characterise the best of this work, whether documenting Manet’s life story or analysing his work, how it was exhibited and received. Our understanding of French painting from the period 1840 to 1880 has at the same time become more refined and freed from over-Manicheistic interpretations. From these two developments, in which the Musée d’Orsay continues to be involved, a new image of Manet and his generation has appeared. This exhibition aims to demonstrate this in a most clear and attractive way. More than just a strictly linear, monographic retrospective, it constructs its premise around some twelve questions, each one closely related to the historical process from which Manet cannot be separated.

Édouard Manet - "The Dead Toreador", 1864-1865 - Oil on canvas - 76 × 153.3 cm. From the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. On view at the Musee D'Orsay.

Simplifying his modernity to an iconographic register or bringing it down to a few stylistic elements, comes, as we know, from a reductive approach. Manet is modern primarily because he embraces, as much as Courbet yet differently, the changes in the media that marked his era, and the unregulated circulation of images; secondly because imperial France, the backdrop to his developing career, was modern. And finally because the manner in which he challenged the masters of the Louvre was modern, extending beyond his militant Hispanism. It is clear that the aesthetic he forged after 1860 demands a broader definition of realism than is normally ascribed to him.With this objective in mind, the exhibition aims to revisit the many links, visual, literary or political, between Manet’s art and Romantic culture. It will focus on the teaching of Thomas Couture, Baudelaire’s support and encouragement, the reform of religious art, erotic imagery and its unresolved issues, etc. But the originality of an artist as unpredictable as Manet cannot be reduced to the sum of the sources from which he distils his art.

Other sections of the exhibition try to throw light on the art of the fragment(ed), his relationship with women painters (Berthe Morisot, Eva Gonzalès), his decision to remain outside the main Impressionist movement and his complicity with Mallarmé at his darkest. The final reminder of the exhibition at the Gallery de la Vie Moderne, the last one-man show, in 1880, of a painter obsessed by the Salon, raises the question of what “the freedom to create” meant to him. This means that “Manet, the Man who Invented Modernity” highlights later works that are less well known and, more importantly, little understood if regarded as simply a stage in the process towards “pure painting”

artwork: Édouard Manet - "On the Beach", 1873 - Oil on canvas - 59.5 x 73 cm. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France. - Photo © Musée d'Orsay/RMN.

The history of the Musee d’Orsay and its building is quite unusual. In the centre of Paris on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Tuileries Gardens, the museum was installed in the former Orsay railway station, built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. So the building itself could be seen as the first “work of art” in the Musee d’Orsay, which displays collections of art from the period 1848 to 1914. The station is superb and looks like a Palais des beaux-arts…” wrote the painter Edouard Detaille in 1900. Eighty-six years later, his prophecy was fulfilled when the Musee d’Orsay opened in 1986. The transformation of the station into a museum was accomplished by ACT architecture group, made up of M. Bardon, M. Colboc and M. Philippon. Their project was chosen in 1979 out of six propositions, and would respect Laloux’s architecture while nonetheless reinterpreting it according to its new function. The project highlighted the great hall, using it as the main artery of the visit, and transformed the magnificent glass awning into the museum’s entrance. The museum has been organised on three levels: on the ground floor, galleries are distributed on either side of the central nave, which is overlooked by the terraces of the median level, these in turn opening up into additional exhibition galleries. The top floor is installed above the lobby, which covers the length of the Quai, and continues into the highest elevations of the former hotel, over the rue de la Légion d’Honneur (formerly rue de Bellechasse). The museum’s specific exhibition spaces and different facilities are distributed throughout the three levels: the pavilion Amont, the glass walkway of the former station’s western pinion, the museum restaurant (installed in the dining hall of the former hotel), the Café des Hauteurs, the bookshop and the auditorium. The museum has 57,400 square metres of floorspace of which almost 22,000 is used to exhibit art. Almost 3 million people visit the Musee d’Orsay every year. Visit the museum’s website at … http://www.musee-orsay.fr