Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

By Francis Frascina; Charles Harrison et al. | Go to book overview

6 Edouard Manet

Emile Zola


The man and the artist

Edouard Manet was born in Paris in 1833. I have only a few biographical details concerning him. In this orderly police state of ours, an artist's life is the same as that of any quiet bourgeois; he paints his pictures in his studio as others sell pepper over their counters. The long-haired types of 1830, thank heavens, have completely disappeared, and our painters have become what they ought to be — people living the same life as everyone else.

After spending some years with the Abbé Poiloup at Vaugirard, Edouard Manet finished his education at the Collège Rollin. At the age of seventeen, on leaving college, he fell in love with painting. What a terrible love that is — parents tolerate a mistress, even two; they will close their eyes if necessary to a straying heart and senses. But the Arts! Painting for them is the Scarlet Woman, the Courtesan, always hungry for flesh, who must drink the blood of their children, who clutches them, panting, to her insatiable lips. Here is Orgy unforgivable, Debauchery — the bloody spectre which appears sometimes in the midst of families and upsets the peace of the domestic hearth. [...]

Contemporary fools, who earn their living by making the public laugh, have turned Manet into a sort of Bohemian character, a rogue, a ridiculous bogey, and the public has accepted the jokes and the caricatures as so much truth. The truth is far removed from these dummies, created in the imagination of penny-a-line humorists, and it is in order to present the real man that I write these lines.

The artist has confessed to me that he adores society and that he found secret pleasure in the perfumed and glittering refinement of soirées. He was drawn to them by his love of bold and vivid colour [...] Then he returns to his home and there tastes the quiet pleasures of the modern bourgeois. [...]

I really had to write these lines before speaking of Manet as an artist. I feel it is much easier now to tell people who are already prejudiced what I believe to be the truth. I hope that people will cease to treat this man, whose portrait I have attempted to trace in a few lines, as a slovenly dauber, and that they will pay polite attention to the unbiased opinions which I am going to give on a sincere and dedicated artist. [...]

This is how I explain the birth of a true artist, Edouard Manet, for example. Feeling that he was making no progress by copying the masters, or by painting

____________________
Source: "'Une nouvelle manière en peinture: Edouard Manet'" first appeared on 1 January 1867 in the Revue du XIX Siècle; then for a second time under the title Edouard Manet, Étude Biographique et Critique (Dentu, Paris) on the occasion of Manet's one-man show which he opened in Paris at the end of May 1867. This extract is from P. Courthion and P. Cailler, Portrait of Manet by Himself and his Contemporaries, translated by M. Ross (Cassell, 1960), pp. 116-139.

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