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Posts tagged ‘Manet’

Countdown to my new Solo Exhibition | 2 days – Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe

As my new collection of Norms started to gain momentum, and I started to amass a series of Norm sketches and new Norm paintings including yesterday’s featured work, Flamenco Norm, I started to take inspiration from the art that had gone before me. Not my art, but the art of the great masters of art history past. The first of art history’s masterpieces to get my “Norm” treatment was none other than Velazquez’s Infanta series. This was followed by Degas’ L’Absinthe, Frans Hals Laughing Cavalier, Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait and Da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine. But of all art history’s masterpieces, there is one work which I had always wanted to emulate, but had never quite put my finger on how I could represent it in my own style. Now that the Norms were back, I had the key to the problem. And the painting? Why Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe.

Massively controversial in its day, famously rejected from the 1863 Paris Salon and lampooned in the Salon des Refusés that same year, Manet’s picnic masterpiece with its mysterious conjunction of two dressed men and a totally naked woman is well established as having marked a turning point for modern art; for having inspired the Impressionists to forge a new revolutionary path in the art world; and for exposing hitherunto hidden social realities in a world of artifical society niceties. It’s a painting which has been emulated and reworked by artist after artist, Picasso being perhaps the most famous to do so. And now it’s my turn – and that of my Norms.

Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe (after Manet) 2012, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown

Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (after Manet) 2012, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown

My Norm Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe was painted in 2012, and with its abundant picnic full of delicious delicacies of the age, it’s certainly one of my more complex Norm paintings. It’s also the biggest at 100 x 80cm. However while the composition very closely emulates Manet’s original, the colour palette is completely changed, and it is perhaps this element which I feel is the work’s greatest success.

Now the painting is wrapped in bubbles; it’s corners are specially protected and it is getting ready to travel for the first time, a few miles north into central london where it will be displayed in pride of place amongst my new collection of solo works. For in only 2 days my new solo exhibition of paintings and prints will open at London’s Strand Gallery. Please come along and share in the last 6 years of my work. In the meantime take a look at the gallery below featuring all 15 of my Norm works based on the geniuses of art history. Enjoy!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

Nicholas de Lacy-Brown’s new solo exhibition, When (S)pain became the Norm, will be at London’s Strand Gallery from 13 – 18 May 2014. For more details, click here.

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Manet: Not exhibited in his lifetime

Glancing through the current Manet retrospective, Manet: Portraying Life, at the Royal Academy, there is one consistent feature which is perhaps even more noticeable that the works themselves: How many of the paintings are labelled “Not displayed in his lifetime”. Why the Royal Academy is so insistent on spelling this out with such apparent alacrity is unclear. But what it demonstrates is that the majority of works comprising this so called “first ever retrospective devoted to the portraiture of Edouard Manet” are what I call “filler works” – paintings which are either unfinished or merely preparations for other works, and none of which the artist had ever intended to be exhibited for public consumption.

It is therefore with some unease that I looked upon these works, which the Royal Academy tries to pass off as paintings worthy of the not insignificant £15 entry-price, the cynic inside me recognising that what we have here is merely a means by which a show that, fundamentally, consists of one room’s worth of finished and accomplished works, is padded out to fill a much bigger space. And even that space is not filled particularly well.

Music in the Tuleries Gardens (1862)

Music in the Tuleries Gardens (1862)

In the second large gallery, for example, the Royal Academy make the slightly unfathomable decision to present Music in the Tuleries all on its own, spotlight upon it, surrounded only by blank walls. I could understand this kind of hang for a masterpiece such as Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, which almost single handedly changed the history of art (and sadly lacking from this show), but for this painting? Sure enough, it’s a skilled group painting, giving us a very realistic snapshot of modern day life one sunny afternoon, lacking in the previous contrived composition of the grand historical paintings which were favoured in the time Manet painted it. But the Royal Academy do not succeed in making any significant point worthy of this solo hang. And what’s worse, this painting belongs to London’s National Gallery, so visitors can normally walk up and see the painting whenever they like, without the crowds attracted to the RA, and for free.

But this was not the worse of it. The following gallery was hung, not with paintings, but with a chronology of Manet’s life, and a desk on which copies of the exhibition catalogue could be surveyed – why exactly I’m not sure: after all, isn’t it better to look at the paintings themselves when you have them in front of you?

Unfinished: Portrait of Carolus Duran (1876)

Unfinished: Portrait of Carolus Duran (1876)

But asides from the unpalatable cheek with which the RA filled it’s space and passed off the show as a great survey of Manet’s career, I also felt a deep sense of unease, not as a punter, but as an artist – because so many of these works are so clearly unfinished, unprepared for public consumption. I can imagine Manet now, turning in his grave, horrified at the prospect of these unfinished preparations being gazed at and criticised as though they were finished works. And all for the sake of a buck or too.

Portrait of M. Antonin Proust (1880)

Portrait of M. Antonin Proust (1880)

The Luncheon (1868)

The Luncheon (1868)

Madame Manet in the Conservatory (1879)

Madame Manet in the Conservatory (1879)

Emile Zola (1868)

Emile Zola (1868)

All that said, the finished works which are on show are masterful Manet’s, apt demonstrations of the artist’s skill at capturing real life, real characters and a sense of the time in which he painted. You get the portrait of M. Antonin Proust (not to be confused with the acclaimed author) – a dandy about town, a man proud and professional in his polished appearance; then there’s Suzanne Leenhoff (later Madame Manet), sat, happily contented in the garden of Manet’s home, her cheeks rosy and her gaze tranquil.

300px-Edouard_Manet_088Then of course there’s Manet’s most infamous sitter of all: Victorine Meurent, who gets a whole gallery to herself in this show. While sadly, and very obviously lacking the two great masterpieces of Manet’s oeuvre in which she features (Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (although the Courtaulds inferior and much smaller copy is here) and Olympia), the paintings which are on show present the model with the confidence and audacity which must have attracted the artist to her – the wiley stare, straight out of the canvas, almost judging, daring the viewer to respond. Then there’s Victorine dressed as a street-seller, an accomplished character portrait in which the cherries held to her mouth appear almost as a provocation, a subliminal message inviting us to read a story into her steely gaze,  as well as the wonderful Railway portrait, in which the railings adjoining the railway appear to take centre stage, and the air of noisy, smoky, modern industry appears oddly juxtaposed with the apparent calm and tranquillity of Victorine and her sleeping puppy.

Street Singer (1862)

Street Singer (1862)

The Railway (1883)

The Railway (1883)

As a Manet lover (need I remind you of my Norm version of both Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe and my juxtaposed Manet character Norms sat in Cappuccino Grand Café ?) I was of course familiar with many of the few finished works on show. But one thing that I took out of the show which I had not fully appreciated before was just how influenced Manet had been by Spanish art. Taking a trip to Spain, organised by Zacharie Astruc who’s portrait is also on display, Manet was very quickly inspired by Velazquez, who he saw as a master of painting black in all its surprising variety of shades, as well as other greats such as Goya and Ribera. Following on from this, one can really start to see the Spanish influence infiltrating into Manet’s work. Take the portrait of Rouviere as Hamlet for example, and look how it compares to this portrait by Velazquez. Then of course there’s the portrait of Victorine in the costume of an Espada, again sadly not included in the exhibition, an a portrait of Emilie Ambre as Spain’s favourite operatic diva, Carmen. As an artist much inspired by the Spanish golden age of art, I am well able to understand the effect that Spanish art must have had on Manet, helping him to surge forward as the revolutionary artist he was, in a claustrophobic French art scene which had yet to be struck by the poignancy of Spanish art.

Portrait of Zacharie Astruc (1866)

Portrait of Zacharie Astruc (1866)

Diego Velazquez, The Jester Pablo de Valladoid (1635)

Diego Velazquez, The Jester Pablo de Valladoid (1635)

The Tragic Actor (Rouviere as Hamlet) 1865

The Tragic Actor (Rouviere as Hamlet) 1865

Victorine Meurent in the costume of an Espada (1862)

Victorine Meurent in the costume of an Espada (1862)

Spanish influence: Emilie Ambre as Carmen (1880)

Spanish influence: Emilie Ambre as Carmen (1880)

Of course it is difficult for us, well informed of the contemporary art which followed, to understand just how revolutionary Manet was as an artist, painting in the age when grand history paintings and allegorical images were all the rage. His paintings were so real, so unpretentious a snapshot of the life and the world around him, that many gallery goers took to attacking his paintings with umbrellas. Yet still Manet ploughed on, forging the path which impressionists and expressionists and the whole world of modern art pursued in his wake. This exhibition does not make any statement half so bold as the mighty oeuvre of Manet in itself, but putting asides the unfinished sketches, and concentrating on the completed masterpieces, those works of Manet which are on show are easily strong enough to make an impression all by themselves.

Manet: Portraying Life is on at the Royal Academy until 14 April 2013.

Persistently mysterious; indubitable genius: Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe

It’s a mystery to us all. Just why would a naked woman be sitting with two clothed men in the middle of the forest? Are they not hot? Is she not cold? Why is there an uneaten picnic, and why does the background look so flat, almost like stage scenery? What is the woman in the background doing and why is the woman in the foreground looking at us with such fervour?

Ever since it’s sensational first appearance at the Salon des Refuses in 1863, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (luncheon on the grass) by Edouard Manet has given rise to a relentless stream of questions and comparatively few answers. While it’s meaning and narrative might have been profoundly unclear to contemporary audiences, what it did do was shock and inspire in equal measure from the first moment of its appearance. It disgraced the reserved Parisian audiences of the 1863 Salon des Refuses, spurred on by a sensational outcry in the press, outraged to see a shockingly unapologetic female nude staring out at the audience so audaciously and mixing with fully clothed civilised gentlemen. But in equal measure it inspired: It was art for art’s sake – not retelling a classical mythological tale as was common at the time – this was a large canvas reserved for every day life. It was a work which exposed the artist’s active hand through visible brush strokes and a hastily composed background. It was a nude woman whose every crease and curve was unflatteringly exposed, ending the previous hypocritical use of nudes as a representation of deity in all their smooth perfection – here was a real woman, with folds of flab and an unwavering gaze. Unsurprising then that this painting became the touchstone of a new impressionist movement, a movement of artists who would circle around Le Déjeuner’s maker, Manet, making him their leader, a movement which would change the course of art history forever.

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe by Edouard Manet (1863)

No surprise then that despite the initial outcry caused by the image, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe has gone on to inspire countless generations of artists, and has become an artistic icon of our times. The work has always been one of my favourites of the (pre-)impressionist era, and I too have been inspired to recreate the scene in my own individual way (and yes, it involves Norms!). I’ll be unveiling my finished work tomorrow, but before I do, it seems only appropriate that the original work and those works which have followed in its shadow should be separately analysed, not least because of the sheer number of artists who have been similarly inspired by the work.

The Judgement of Paris by Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1510-20)

However, before looking at the subsequent reinventions of the work, it is interesting to note the possible sources of Manet’s inspiration as he set about painting this work. It is now thought that Manet was at least partly inspired by two works which would have been staple masterpieces of his time. The first is The Judgment of Paris by Marcantonio Raimondi (above). The engraving, which itself was based on a work by Raphael and copies of which would have been widely distributed at the time Manet set to work on Le Déjeuner includes a familiar composition in the bottom right hand corner. Here, a water nymph and two river gods are sat on the ground watching the judgment of Paris in poses which are exactly reminiscent of the poses adopted in Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. It may well have been that when deciding to reference these poses, Manet was making a purposeful reference to the judgment of Paris as being like the judgment of paintings submitted to the Salon, the annual open art exhibition of Paris for which Manet’s work, as with every other artist’s work in Paris at that time, was intended. For Manet, it was important to be accepted by the unforgiving group of Salon judges, but only on his terms. Therein lay the difficulty. Nudes were very popular at the time, generally as mythological characters, and it is possible that in painting his very realistic confrontational nude, Manet was both aiming to please the Salon, while also sticking a finger up at their traditions – giving with one hand, and taking away with the other. As for Manet’s decision to mix his nude with clothed male characters, it is likely that Manet took inspiration from Pastoral Concert (c.1510) attributed to Titian and a gem of the Louvre collection. Here two contemporaneously clothed men are joined by two naked nymphs – but this was excusable being that the nymphs were inherently and permanently naked.

Pastoral Concert, attributed to Titan or Giorgione (Louvre Paris) c.1510

Here an interesting point arises. In subsequent xrays of Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, it has been revealed that the pile of clothes on the left of the scene was actually a last minute addition by Manet. It is therefore highly possible that in first painting the scene, he wished to conform with Salon standards by painting two contemporaneously dressed men being visited by a classical nymph, or two (and thus representing an up-to-date reinvention of the Titian work). It was only towards the completion of his work, perhaps realising that despite his coarse brush stroked finish and striking pose of the nude, his work was not going far enough to be innovative and daring, that he decided to add the discarded clothes, thus transforming the nude from a nymph into an everyday woman (it is highly possible he would have added the light chiffon clothing to the woman in the background at the same time). In adding these clothes, Manet transforms the entire tenor of the piece, from mythological pleasantry into a scene of social scandal, as ladies of the time would have recognised the nude as a prostitute consorting with well-bred gentlemen, while the gentlemen in the audience would have undoubtedly felt judged and debased by the direct unwavering gaze of the nude as if to say: “remember me? I’m the one you had behind your wife’s back in Montmartre last night”.

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