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Manet: Portraying Life - Royal Academy of Arts

Edouard Manet. The Railway, 1873. Oil on canvas, 93.3 x 111.5 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer, 1956.10.1. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Exhibition preview

THE ROYAL Academy of Arts is presenting the first major exhibition in the UK to showcase Edouard Manet’s portraiture. Entitled Manet: Portraying Life, it will on display in the Main Galleries from January 26 to April 14, 2013.

The exhibition will examine the relationship between Manet’s portrait painting and his scenes of modern life.

By translating portrait sitters into actors in his genre scenes, Manet guarantees the authenticity of the figures that populate his genre paintings and asserts a new, more potent relationship between Realism and Modernity.

Portraying Life will include over 50 paintings spanning the career of this archetypal modern artist together with a selection of pastels and contemporary photographs. It will bring together works from both public and private collections across Europe, Asia and the USA.

The exhibition will be arranged thematically, exploring Manet’s world and the landscape of nineteenth century Parisian society.

Different sections will focus on The Artist and his Family – Manet, Suzanne Leenhoff Manet and Leon Koella Leenhoff; Manet and his Artist Friends including Berthe Morisot, Eva Gonzales and Claude Monet; Manet and his Literary and Theatrical Friends such as Emile Zola, Zacharie Astruc, Theodore Duret, George Moore, Stephane Mallarme and Fanny Claus…

Status Portraits including Georges Clemenceau, Henri Rochefort and Antonin Proust; and finally, The Artist and his Models which will encompass both female friends such as Mery Laurent and Isabelle Lemonnier as well as professional models such as Victorine Meurent.

Highlights will include The Luncheon, 1868 (Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen-Neue Pinakothek, Munich), depicting Leon, the son of Manet’s wife; Mme Manet in the Conservatory, 1879 (The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo); Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets, 1872 (Musee d’Orsay, Paris); Street Singer, c.1862 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)…

Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, c.1863-68 (The Courtauld Gallery, London); The Railway, 1873 (National Gallery of Art, Washington); and Music in the Tuileries Gardens, 1862 (The National Gallery, London) which brings together the literary and theatrical friends of the artist.

Edouard Manet was born in Paris in 1832 into a middle-class family. His father was a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Justice, and his mother, Eugenie-Desiree, the daughter of a diplomat.

Manet enlisted in the merchant marine and travelled to South America in 1848. A year after his return to Paris in 1849, he entered the studio of the successful salon artist Thomas Couture and for the next six years, he pursued training within and beyond Couture’s studio.

Exposure to contemporary art came through the Paris Salon and independent exhibitions. In 1863, Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff, a talented pianist and the mother of Leon Koella Leenhoff, who became part of the Manet family but whose paternity remains uncertain. His younger brother, Eugene, married the artist Berthe Morisot in 1874.

Manet’s independence of style, individuality of subject matter and seemingly non-conventional technique meant that his exhibition career was fraught with rejection and on-going negative critical response.

However, despite supporting his younger contemporaries, the Impressionists, and observing closely their own innovative approach to subject matter and technique, he resolutely refused to exhibit with them in the eight Impressionist exhibitions (1874 – 1886).

Throughout his life, Manet surrounded himself with a wide circle of friends, admirers and supporters from the artistic, literary and musical communities – all of whom professed leanings towards the more radical movements of the day; they defended his art and served as sitters for his portraits.

Manet’s career as a professional artist lasted less than three decades, cut short by his premature death in 1883 at the age of 51.

Manet: Portraying Life has been organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in collaboration with the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. The exhibition has been curated by MaryAnne Stevens, Director of Academic Affairs, Royal Academy of Arts and Dr Larry Nichols, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring essays by leading scholars working in the fields specific to Edouard Manet, portraiture and photography, and the issues surrounding the definition and application of such terms as Realism, Naturalism and ‘modern life’. Authors include Carol Armstrong, Colin Bailey, Stephane Guegan and Leah Lehmbeck.

Manet: Portraying Life Gallery

Admission: £15 full price; £14 registered disabled and 60+ years; £10 NUS/ISIC cardholders; £5 Income Support; £4 12-18 years; £3 8-11 years; 7 and under free. RA Friends go free.

Times: 10am to 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm); Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD

Tel: 020 7300 8000


Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape continues at the Royal Academy of Arts until February 17, 2013.