Édouard Manet. Two Roses. c. 1882. Oil on canvas, 7 5/8 x 9 1/2" (19.4 x 24.1 cm). The William S. Paley Collection

“I render, as simply as can be, the things I see.”

Édouard Manet

“My dear friend,” wrote the artist Édouard Manet to the poet Stéphane Mallarmé in 1874, “Thanks. If I had a few supporters like you, I wouldn’t give a damn about the jury.”1 The jury to which Manet refers was responsible for deciding the artworks that would, and would not, be selected for the Paris Salon, the most prestigious art exhibition in France. Recently, this jury had rejected two of the four paintings submitted to the Salon by Manet. In response, Mallarmé wrote a passionate defense of his friend, whom he described as a “new master, who annually shows his developing talent in a spirit of lofty thought and misunderstood wisdom.”2

Manet and Mallarmé would soon embark on a joint project: Le Corbeau, a bilingual, illustrated edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. Mallarmé translated Poe’s famous poem from English into French (a raven can be spotted in Paul Gauguin’s Portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé) while Manet designed the book’s frontispiece (the illustration opposite its title page and its ex-libris (the label used to identify the book’s owner), as well as four full-page prints. In Manet’s hands, Poe’s raven is an enigmatic creature flitting in and out of view. The bird sits in profile on the frontispiece and takes flight on the ex-libris, but is absent in the first print. Then, it swoops into an open window in the second print and lands on a sculpted bust in the third print, only to abandon the scene in the fourth print. Raven or no raven, each lithograph evokes the beady-eyed, sharp-beaked bird. Whether depicting a sooty city skyline or a shadowy apartment interior, Manet alludes to the raven’s lustrous plumage through his generous use of deep, dark ink. A similarly stark color scheme can be found in his other prints, many of which—like Le Corbeau—respond to works of art and literature. As images and texts circulated with greater ease in the 19th century, Manet’s prints explored a changing media environment while questioning conventional notions about copies and originals.

Prior to Le Corbeau, Manet had made his name in Paris with daring paintings inspired in equal measure by modern life and historical artworks. In 1863, the artist shocked the city’s exhibition-going public with Luncheon on the Grass; he did so again in 1864 with The Dead Christ with Angels and in 1865 with Olympia. For his early viewers, it was not only what Manet painted—a party of picnickers, one of them naked; an ashen Christ; a brazen sex worker and her attentive maid—but how that was startling. Stripped-down compositions, limited shading, broad brushstrokes, bold coloring: all were departures from traditional Salon painting. “It appears that I am the first to praise Manet without reservation,” wrote the novelist and critic Émile Zola in 1866. “You know what effect Manet’s canvases produce at the Salon. They break open the wall, quite simply.”3

By the early 1880s, Manet was suffering from the illness that would result in his death at the age of 51. It was during these years that he completed Two Roses along with a number of other small flower paintings. Though sometimes understood as slight due to their size and subject matter, these works pulse with thought and feeling. In Two Roses, a pair of delicately hued flowers—one a crimson-flecked cream, the other a faint, blue-streaked lilac—lie on a gray surface. The arrangement may be spare, but not Manet’s treatment of it. “What is shadow and what is plant matter?” the scholar Bridget Alsdorf has asked of the painting. “What is paint and what is life? Which is primary for the artist? Often praised as ‘simple,’ Manet’s flowers are anything but.”4 From the curling folds of the blooms to their tangled stems, leaves, and shadows, Two Roses rewards the kind of close, careful looking lavished on Manet by his most attentive observers, among them Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin in the 19th century and Pablo Picasso, Romare Bearden, and Mickalene Thomas in the 20th and 21st.

Note: Opening quote is from Wrigley, Richard. Edouard Manet (London: Scala Books, 1992), 34.

Annemarie Iker, independent scholar, 2022

  1. Édouard Manet quoted in Juliet Wilson-Bareau and Breon Mitchell, “Tales of a Raven: The Origins and Fate of Le Corbeau by Mallarmé and Manet,” Print Quarterly vol. 6, no. 3 (September 1989), 262.

  2. Stéphane Mallarmé, “Le Jury de peinture pour 1874 et M. Manet,” La Renaissance littéraire et artistique (12 April 1874), quoted in George Heard Hamilton, Manet and His Critics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), 185.

  3. Émile Zola, Mon Salon (Paris: Librairie Centrale, 1866), 40, 46.

  4. Bridget Alsdorf, “Manet’s Fleurs du mal,” in Manet and Modern Beauty: The Artist’s Last Years, ed. Scott Allan, Emily Beeny, and Gloria Groom (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 219), 130.

Wikipedia entry
Édouard Manet (UK: , US: ; French: [edwaʁ manɛ]; 23 January 1832 – 30 April 1883) was a French modernist painter. He was one of the first 19th-century artists to paint modern life, as well as a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. Born into an upper-class household with strong political connections, Manet rejected the naval career originally envisioned for him; he became engrossed in the world of painting. His early masterworks, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) or Olympia, "premiering" in 1863 and '65, respectively, caused great controversy with both critics and the Academy of Fine Arts, but soon were praised by progressive artists as the breakthrough acts to the new style, Impressionism. Today too, these works, along with others, are considered watershed paintings that mark the start of modern art. The last 20 years of Manet's life saw him form bonds with other great artists of the time; he developed his own simple and direct style that would be heralded as innovative and serve as a major influence for future painters.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Generally considered an important artist of the Realist tradition who influenced and was influenced by the Impressionist painters of the 1870s. He never exhibited with the Impressionists or adopted fully their ideas and procedures. His painting is famous for its painterly technique and his paintings and prints are known for new urban subject-matter. He had a short career, but his style evolved from early works characterized by dramatic light-dark contrasts and based on Spanish 17th-century painting to high-keyed, freely brushed compositions where the content was related to Symbolism.
Artist, Designer, Etcher, Lithographer, Genre Artist, Graphic Artist, Illustrator, Painter, Pastelist, Pastellist
Edouard Manet, Éduard Manet, Eduard Manė, אדוארד מאנה, Édouard Manet, ed. manet, Eduard Manet, edward manet, e. manet, Manet, manet e., manet edouard, eduard manet, eduoard manet
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


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