Homage to Manet
31 January – 19 April 2015
Revealing how British artists such as John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert, Gwen John and Vanessa Bell were inspired by one of the most important painters of modern times.
The exhibition takes its title from a work by William Orpen – set 30 years after Édouard Manet’s death – which shows eminent Edwardian critics, connoisseurs and painters discussing the artist's portrait of Eva Gonzales. Featuring British impressionists Philip Wilson Steer and Walter Sickert, Orpen highlights Manet – who led the transition from Realism to Impressionism in France – as a key figure in the development of modern art in the UK.
Focusing on the period from 1860 until 1914, the thematic display explores Manet's legacy in Britain. A particular area of interest is the way that he, as a man who relished portraying women, influenced the way other artists depicted female subjects – including female artists themselves.
Central to the exhibition is Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, acquired by the Ashmolean Museum in 2012 with support from the Art Fund. Painted in 1868 it is thought to have been one of three preparatory portraits for his masterpiece, Le Balcon. Regardless of its status, it is a fully resolved portrait and Claus's features are in fact far more lively and characterful in this version than in the final work.
The piece was brought to England in 1886 by John Singer Sargent, marking a significant change in direction for British artists at this time.