7 Oct-5 Feb 2005. 150 oils, drawings and etchings from international museums.
Every painter has a specialty you remember. What is marvellous about Manet is how he teases colour out of whites, grays, brown and black. The elegance and sweep of his sleek fat brush strokes and velvety surfaces is unrivalled. Believing he was the rightful heir of the old masters, he set himself the task to interpret them truly, in the key of his own life and time.
Using compositions from Titian and Goya, he peopled them with the friends and acquaintances of his own Parisian daily life. The figures in his single portraits, observed with sharp quick eye, stand out like icons or silhouettes in their bright but ordinary surroundings. His lovingly molded nudes are neither saints nor mysterious mythical goddesses but simple filles de joie used to being looked at stark naked, proud of their healthy flesh. This unabashed frankness brought him public scorn.
Though he was friends with the younger Impressionists he only flirted with their method. His fat fast lush strokes in oily lucent contrasts were different from the glittering high-key paint of the Impressionists.
This exhibition is a cheat, for there are too few works to illuminate the public unfamiliar with his work. Nor does it explain properly Manets uneasy distance from Impressionism. It is fluffed up and overloaded with too many prints. There is a group of seascapes with so little distinction that Claude Monet was embarrassed when one was attributed to him.
Still, some very few paintings make a visit worthwhile: a portrait of his friend, the painter Marcellin Desboutin, a large foolish young man standing by his silky dog; the portrait of Mry Laurent; two small still lifes, one of a handful of bluishpink velvet peaches, the other of shiny white fleshly peonies, both magically evoking an acute sense of touch and fragrance. But what is most worth your while is "Swallows": this is a canvas done in one great sweep of heightened recognition. It is dashed down with a breath as wide as the windy day it depicts. Parisiennes sit in a landscape full of far windmills, a village and cows, with little chips of black birds cutting back and forth around them. This makes you remember the true Manet. Edith Schloss.