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Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1863

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Artist Manet, Édouard The attempt to translate the French title of this picture, “Le déjeuner sur l'herbe”, into “Luncheon on the Grass” or “Picnic in the Woods”, merely points up inappropriateness. Manet called it Le Bain (The Bathing Party), but the public conferred the title which has become inseparable from this work. Both titles are almost useless: all bathing s suspended, and no one is concerned about luncheon. The protagonists are caught in a sort of Egyptian fixity. In the foreground, a magnificent blue still life provides the key to the whole composition. In effect, figures and landscape comprise a formal composition more akin to the aims of still-life painting than the subject itself may suggest. Firstly exhibited in the 1863 Salon des Refusés , it immediately attracted all visitors, the more so because the Emperor had pronounced it “immodest”. The central group had been adapted from an engraving after Rafael (Judgment of Paris). Indeed, a curious lack of imagination repeatedly led Manet to “borrow” subjects from other masters (many of his works, if not based directly on old masters, were at least inspired by remembrance). It may be doubted whether Manet’s painting would have provoked such criticism had it not been painted in broad contrast and frank oppositions, with a tendency to simplification. His “vulgarity”, in the eyes of the public, lay in his execution than in his subject matter. It was his renunciation of the customary slick brushwork, his fashion of summarily indicating background details and of obtaining forms without the help of lines, by opposing colours or by sketching his contours with decisive brushstrokes in colour (which helped to model volumes instead of limiting them), that were responsible for the almost universal disapproval he met.




Institution Musée d'Orsay
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 208 x 264.5 cm













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