Manet: Portraying Life
26 January – 14 April 2013
For the first time in half a century a significant number of works by the father of modern art are coming to Britain for a major retrospective.
The Royal Academy's spring blockbuster traces Manet’s practice of using his portrait sitters as ‘actors’ in his genre pieces, giving visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to follow Manet’s many treatments of Victorine Meurent, his favourite model, through several works on loan from collections across Europe and North America.
There are similar journeys being traced with characters from various spheres of the artist’s life: his family, professional acquaintances, and friends. Most importantly we see Manet's dialogue with his medium as he attempts and succeeds to create a new visual language, questioning at every turn what modern art is to him and his contemporaries.
Manet was a great risk-taker and critics of day rallied against his inconsistent approach, as you will see many of the works seem 'unresolved' or 'unfinished' but one of Manet's great skills was this ability to stop painting at the right moment, and it is this technique which gives the works a sense of movement and life.
Manet once said to his friend Antonin Proust, 'I must be seen whole. Don't let me go piecemeal into the public collections; I would not be fairly judged.' This exhibition, which brings together the largest selection of works by the artist to be exhibited together in a UK museum, is a great opportunity to judge Manet's extraordinary talent as a 'whole'.
Alongside dozens of portraits in oil and pastel, blockbuster genre pieces on show include The Luncheon, and Music in the Tuileries Gardens. Recurring sitters include the painter's sister-in-law Berthe Morisot, Mme Monet – who features in a host of private portraits – and Manet's friend Mme Guillemet, who appears in a portrait of 1880 and in his grand composition In the Conservatory.
Manet's beautiful portrait of Fanny Claus, bought by the Ashmolean Museum in 2012 with help from the Art Fund, is one of the key works in the exhibition. The painting was a study for his masterpiece Le Balcon, in which the positions of Berthe Morisot and Fanny Claus are switched.