By autumn 1867, as more details about Maximilian's death were published, Manet set aside the first painting and began a second, more refined canvas. He reworked the background, altered the distance between the victims and the firing squad, and changed the uniforms of the soldiers so that they resembled French army uniforms. This second painting formed the basis on which the remaining works were composed, in the period through early 1869.
This painting was damaged during Manetís lifetime
while in storage in his studio. After his death, the damaged
sections were cut away and destroyed by his heirs,
and the surviving fragments were sold as individual
paintings. These were sought out and reassembled by
the artist Edgar Degas in the 1890s. The National
Gallery in London acquired them in 1918, separated
them again, and in 1992 reunited them on one canvas
as they appear here, to afford at least a partial sense
of Manetís original composition.