Chanteuse de café-concert
Auguste Pellerin, Paris.
T. Duret, Histoire d'Edouard Manet et son oeuvre, Paris, 1902, no. 272.
London, The Lefevre Gallery, Géricault to Renoir, May 1951, no. 20 (illustrated p. 7).
During 1878 and 1879, Manet had painted a series of scenes set in the Cabaret de Reichshoffen on the Boulevard Rochechouart in which he showed the clients and employees of the bar rubbing shoulders against each other. Chanteuse de café-concert dates from a little after these works, but shows a similar interest in the nightlife of Paris. As is clear by comparison with its sister-work, also named Chanteuse de café-concert, the concert in question took place outdoors in the Champs Elysées. In the other work, the crowd is also displayed, whereas here the focus is entirely on the singer, taking her bow at the end of a performance, having been presented with the flowers that have led to its having the alternative title of Chanteuse au bouquet.
Manet was a painter-flâneur, and it is not surprising that he is now often linked to the phrase 'The Painter of Modern Life', a title ascribed him by his friend Charles Baudelaire. His description of the painter of modern life was no less apt now for the artist of Chanteuse de café-concert than it had been when ascribed to him over a decade earlier:
'The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite' (Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, trans. J. Mayne, New York, 1964, p. 9).
While the crowd may not be visible except as a flurry of activity in the lower part of the composition of Chanteuse de café-concert, they are nonetheless everpresent and implied. The excitement of the performance, the sense of musicality and leisure and even of celebration fill the work with the cosmopolitan pulse of Parisian life, and all these are translated all the more vividly through the swirling brushwork with which the artist has so deftly captured the scene.
The notion of performance as a theme in Manet's art is not as prevalent in his Paris scenes as the more general views of customers in bars, and perhaps reveals him doffing his cap to his friend and fellow avant-garde artist Edgar Degas. While the uplighting of the stage, visible in the illumination of the singer's face, was necessarily a feature of such a scene, it nonetheless recalls Degas' images of the ballet. Where he preferred to show the performers in rehearsal, in unguarded moments, Manet has here taken a more fulfilling moment, an instant of brief sublimation, that of the applause. This is equally unguarded, but is not as completely informal as the rehearsals, and thus plays a different role both within the narrative arc of a performance and in terms of the atmosphere evoked. For the singer is still before her admirers, is still performing on one level or another. Yet it is as an object of adulation-- the artist's as well as the audience's-- that Manet presents her. For he loved bohemian life, loved women, loved entertainment, and all these loves are clearly evident and indeed intoxicating in the enthusiasm with which he has painted Chanteuse de café-concert.
In her book Edouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat, Beth Archer Brombert explained that Manet had two set artistic aims during 1879. One was to paint a portrait of his friend Antonin Proust in a single sitting; the other was to create an image of life outdoors in which the outlines of the figures would 'melt in the vibration of the atmosphere' (Manet, quoted in B. Archer Brombert, Edouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat, Boston, 1996, p. 411). The latter resulted in the painting now in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Tournai, Chez le Père Lathuille. The effects of both these projects can be discerned in Chanteuse de café-concert, which features the vivacity and outdoor atmosphere, as well as the 'vibration of the atmosphere' of the latter work, while also revealing a frenetic pace of execution allowing Manet to translate all the more directly the scene of the concert. Manet was already hailed as one of the great pioneers, alongside Courbet, of alla prima painting, in which the oils are applied when still wet rather than waiting for them to dry and building up layer upon layer of colour, as in the Old Masters. Now, he has taken this a step further, working in a manner that conveys an intense spontaneity. While Manet was not an Impressionist, he has nonetheless here captured a distinct and vivid impression.
Chanteuse de café-concert is usually dated to 1879, to the months just preceding his move to the studio at 77 rue d'Amsterdam. In those months he briefly rented the studio of the Swedish painter Johann-Georg Otto, Count Rosen, a luxurious and well-appointed space that filled him with pleasure. Despite this, Tabarant dated the work to 1880, to Manet's return from Bellevue, where he had been recuperating from the illness that would eventually take his life before the age of fifty. On his return from Bellevue in 1880, Manet had indeed appeared much improved, and immediately set about immersing himself and his paintings in Parisian life, and it is to the early winter of that year and not the previous one that Tabarant attributes this picture and the other of the same title.
By the time that Théodore Duret published his Histoire d'Edouard Manet et son oeuvre in 1903, just under two decades after the artist's death, Chanteuse de café-concert was in the possession of the legendary collector and industrialist Auguste Pellerin, a collector of Impressionist and Modern art who bought on a legendary scale. Pellerin owned many of Manet's masterpieces, and even more of Cézanne's. A collector of intense foresight, works of art that formed his collection now not only compliment, but indeed form the very backbone of the collections of many museums worldwide, and indeed the backbone of the public understanding of the developments of Manet's art, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Since it was sold from the Pellerin Collection at the turn of the last century, it has been handled by the most notable dealers of Europe and America from Berheim-Jeune in Paris, to Cassirer in Berlin, Lefevre in London and Wildenstein and Salz in New York.