Norton Simon (1907–1993) purchased his first paintings on a whim in 1954. By the time the Norton Simon Museum opened in Pasadena, California, in 1975, Simon had built one of the nation’s most important art collections. Today, its scope ranges from Fra Angelico to Picasso. Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Nabis artists were of particular interest to Simon. Between 1956 and 1968, he acquired three paintings by Édouard Manet, whose pivotal role between the Old Masters and modernism bridged diverse aspects of his collection.
Manet’s portrait of his wife hung in Simon’s home on approval for more than a year before he finalized its purchase in 1957. The painting’s format, animated brushwork, and limited palette were comparable to other paintings Simon was then considering: a half-length portrait by Frans Hals and two portraits then attributed to Rembrandt.
Two years later, Manet’s Fish and Shrimp arrived for approval at the Simon home, where it joined two recently acquired still lifes by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Simon was simultaneously pursuing the purchase of two floral still lifes painted by Henri Fantin-Latour in similar tenebrous tones.
In 1966, Simon established his “museum without walls” program to lend works of art to institutions across the United States. Two years later, he acquired Manet’s monumental painting The Ragpicker for his growing collection. The painting’s institutional scale and historical importance speak to Simon’s ambitious transformation of a private collection into a public legacy.
In anticipation of this exhibition, the Norton Simon paintings underwent conservation treatment by conservators at the J. Paul Getty Museum.