Portrait of Georges Clemenceau
Shortly after he became prime minister of France in 1906, Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) ordered Manet’s controversial painting of Olympia to be transferred from the Musée du Luxembourg (where contemporary art was relegated) to the Louvre, thus granting it old master status. When the two men first met is unknown, but Clemenceau, just out of medical school, left for America as a newspaper correspondent in 1865, the year in which Manet first exhibited Olympia in Paris. Following his return in 1869, Clemenceau entered the tumultuous French political world as a radical leftist. Manet, who often asked his friends to model for him as themselves, seems to have developed a particular interest in political figures as subjects around 1879, which is when he initiated this painting of Clemenceau, one of two different versions of identical size. The rostrum at the bottom of the Kimbell painting was probably intended as an economical way to indicate Clemenceau’s incumbency at the time in the Chamber of Deputies.
Manet typically exasperated models with his insatiable need to revise, and he never finished the Clemenceau portraits. Closely related photographs of Clemenceau, found among the papers of both artist and sitter, suggest that he was seldom available to pose in person.
Manet’s widow gave both incompletely realized portraits to the politician as keepsakes. In 1905, Clemenceau agreed to sell one of the versions to an American collector; shortly afterwards he sold the other (the Kimbell version) to a Parisian dealer. The American collector, Louisine Havemeyer, had the unfinished lower portion of her version removed and in 1927 donated the work to the Louvre (today it is displayed at the Musée d’Orsay).