Manet: Three Paintings from the Norton Simon Museum

Oil Paiting, Madame Manet

Frick and Norton Simon Exchange Continues with Unprecedented Loan of Three Works by Édouard Manet

Considered the father of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and, by some, twentieth-century abstraction, Édouard Manet (1832–1883) was a revolutionary in his own time and a legend thereafter. Beyond his pivotal role in art history as the creator of such iconic masterworks as Olympia (1862–63) and Luncheon on the Grass (1863), Manet’s vision has come to define how we understand modern urban life and Paris, the so-called “capital of the nineteenth-century.” Next fall the Frick will present three Manet canvases from the collection of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, marking the first time the paintings will be exhibited together elsewhere since their acquisition. The exhibition will present the paintings as examples encapsulating three “views” of the artist’s life and work. Each canvas offers an opportunity to consider the range of Manet’s pioneering vision: Still Life with Fish and Shrimp (1864) focuses attention on the paint itself; The Ragpicker (ca. 1865–71; possibly reworked in 1876) highlights the artist’s use of art historical references; and, finally, Madame Manet (ca. 1876) looks at his biography. Manet: Three Paintings from the Norton Simon Museum is the seventh in a series of acclaimed reciprocal loans with the California museum. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue—which features new scholarly material on technical analysis, provenance, and dating—are organized and written by the Frick’s Assistant Curator, David Pullins.

About the Paintings

Still Life with Fish and Shrimp is one of Manet’s best-preserved paintings, its surface still seeming to ripple from his energetic brush. Manet considered still life “the painter’s touchstone,” an opportunity for displaying mastery of oil paint and color at their most primal. Thinking of the controversial and radical subjects in some of Manet’s work, Émile Zola wrote, “Even the most determined enemies of Édouard Manet’s talent admit he paints inanimate objects well.” Still Life with Fish and Shrimp allows us to look past the subject and relish the application of the paint itself.

The Ragpicker, a monumental canvas more than six feet high, attests to Manet’s devotion to audacious subject matter. He depicts the underbelly of modern Paris, the urban street-dwellers who subsisted on the refuse of others, through visual references to Golden Age Spanish painting and Velásquez, in particular. Part of a series provocatively titled The Four Philosophers, these paintings caused outrage among critics who upheld the tradition that such large-scale works should be reserved only for religious, historical, and royal subjects. The Ragpicker exemplifies the way that Manet combined diverse references from the past and present, from high and low culture, in order to formulate his incisive images of modern urban life.

Madame Manet (previous page) depicts Suzanne Leenhoff (1829–1906), the artist’s wife and frequent model, through what appears to be a frenzied, sketchiness that is, in fact, the result of studied layers of paint and glazing. This painting highlights the way biographical details inform how we view an artist’s work and affords a look at how artists’ legacies are formed. Leenhoff played a key role in shaping how Manet’s oeuvre is viewed today. After his death, in 1883, with her consent, many of the incomplete paintings in his studio were “finished,” and some works, including this one, were “signed” in order to sell them more easily.

Major support for the exhibition is provided by Barbara and Brad Evans, Margot and Jerry Bogert, and Denise Littlefield Sobel. Additional funding is generously provided by the Marlene and Spencer Hays Foundation, Kathleen and †Martin Feldstein, and Jeanine Parisier Plottel and Roland Plottel.

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