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Edouard Manet and Francisco de Goya Essay Sample

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Edouard Manet and Francisco de Goya Essay Sample

An attempt to determine Manet’s position by an analysis of the purely artistic values in his pictures –in this case we are concerned chiefly with the works of his early period–is particularly difficult because the material available is not sufficient to enable us to form a judgment as to the highest values. The plastic values, by which we mean the expressive and tactile values, those of movement and space, and lastly of composition, have nothing to do with the determining of Manet’s place in art, for they can scarcely give rise to disagreement. The position to be assigned to Manet depends entirely on the purely artistic values. Among these coloring and color-harmonies, which are of great beauty in his works, constitute the least important category, for nowadays they can be assessed by standards comprehensible to all.

The two higher categories of artistic values, to be found in the works of great masters and therefore also in those of Manet, have hitherto scarcely been established as phenomena, let alone been given a terminology. In the case of one of the two, the use of grey, which holds an almost supreme position in painting, not as a color to be arranged with the other colors but with pretensions to individual beauty, the best term one can use is perhaps “value of grey tones”. The frequency with which such tones occur in Manet’s works raises them to a higher level than, for instance, those of Van Gogh. But his real place is determined by the values which ensue when the grey tone values are brought into contact with other color values which are suited to them, without being blended to form harmonies, and which have sufficient character to retain their independence. In such cases of artistic polyphony, it is best to speak of “melodic values”.

Several years were to pass before Manet’s hand gave birth to a “sacred text” which it will be our task to consider and interpret. For his experiences in the Louvre still dominated his mind and he could not free himself from them in a day. Nevertheless in many of his pictures from this period we can detect elements, from the totality of which the high quality of his personality was to emerge. He painted a portrait of Antonin Proust, whom he had known as a child at the Collège Rollin and afterwards at Couture’s studio, the same who subsequently, as Minister of Fine Arts, often gave him friendly assistance. He also painted the “Absinthe-Drinker”, on seeing which Couture exclaimed: “There is only one absinthe-drinker, and that’s the man who painted this idiotic picture.” He painted the “Child with the cherries” and the “Concert in the Tuileries Gardens”, one of the most precious documents we possess concerning the Second Empire, in which he himself, Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier all figure.

He painted the portrait of his parents, in which some have seen the influence of Frans Hals, a picture in which the dominating element of the grey tone already makes a victorious appearance. In 1861 he painted the “Child with a sword” and in the following year the “Vagrant Musicians”, before which we used to sit so often before the war, to drink in its exhilarating and at the same time tranquillizing browns, just as we used to go sometimes to the Gallimard Collection to enjoy the grey of a little still-life of oysters which he painted one year before. Grey now begins to appear in many variations in his pictures, from the stately dark tone to the grey in his “Street Singer”, which Zola called “soft and blond”. From now on this “blond” grey of Manet’s will take its place beside the luminous grey of Titian, the severe Spanish grey of Ribera, the aristocratic grey of Velázquez, and the many others characteristic of Guardi, Lenain, Chardin and Corot. An essential element of his art was thus added to the others, and several pictures of this period, such as the portrait of Victorine Meurend and the “Young man with a dog”, already display in a perfect form the pure artistic physiognomy of Manet and the full beauty of his work.

Wandering troupes of Spanish singers and dancers provided him with models for pictures in Spanish costumes. He felt more and more kinship with Velázquez, El Greco and Goya. He painted a Spanish ballet, a matador saluting the crowd, a young woman in toreador costume, a young man dressed as Majo, the guitarrist, which brought him an honorable mention from the committee of the Salon. These entire he pointed, and they form a kind of halo round that priceless and decisive work, the first by his hand which may be regarded and interpreted as a “sacred text”: the “Lola de Valence”.

Let us consider this picture as we now see it in the Camondo Collection at the Louvre. Originally it had a neutral background. Manet added the background of dark theatrical scenery later. But it is this background, in its relationship to the rest, which heightens the quality of the picture, which gives it an additional value, difficult to achieve and seldom realized, to be found only in the works of the greatest masters. In order to understand in what this value consists, let us compare the picture with two others which hang close-by. One is a stable scene with horses fighting, by Delacroix; the other is Corot’s celebrated picture of a studio.

Two different kinds of artistic values are realized in these. In the Delacroix we find firm color values of green, reddish-brown and grey-white which blend together to form a complete harmonic value. In the Corot there is an abundance of grey tones, of regal descent, for their history begins with Titian and they were bequeathed to the divine family of the elect. Both these categories of artistic values are to be found in abundance and variety in the “Lola de Valence”. The dress is a harmony of black, green and red; in the upper part of the garment delicate pink and light blue are brought into accord with the red of the coral necklace. But the abundance of greys is overwhelming; they are introduced in the veil and the transparent wrap, and their effect is heightened by the grey of the floor and the shoe-ribbons and by the Corot-esque grey of the fan.

But in addition to these values of color, harmony and grey tones, there is another value present in the “Lola de Valence” which is lacking in the Delacroix and the Corot. In order to determine it, let us suppose that the colors in a picture do not tend towards one another, do not achieve reciprocal determination or blend to form a harmony, but retain their own independence and, without making any concessions, are placed beside a grey tone which, relying on its own beauty, likewise maintains its independence in the picture. There is such a picture in the Louvre, a still-life by Chardin, usually ignored and hung rather high, in which with almost the same colors as in the above-mentioned stable picture something essentially different has been achieved. In this Chardin the green of a cabbage-head and the brownish red of a piece of raw meat do not blend to form a harmony with the grey of the table-cloth.

For as this grey is not, as it is in Delacroix, a color, a derivation from white, but stands in the picture like an isolated costly object as an absolute grey tone value, it follows that the green and red likewise retain an independent existence. Instead of blending and harmony we have a contrast, which gives rise to a polyphonic melodic value. (Just as, in music, sounds which are suited to one another may occur together without combining and exist side-by-side.) This some value is found in the “Lola de Valence”, where the grey, touched with pink, of the wrap, which is of considerable length and passes round the head, exists sideby-side with the sometimes grayish, sometimes brownish black of the background of theatrical scenery. It is also found at the critical point where the grey of the curtain is contrasted with the black of the dress.

If the values of color and harmony delight our senses, and the grey tones give us inward satisfaction, the great melodic values such as we find here have the power to provide us with a vital experience, to elevate and impress our minds. It is thus possible to assign an order to such values, provided each of them is realized on an equally high level.

To sum up our impressions of the “Lola de Valence”, we perceive that the greatness of Manet is due not to the luminosity and lightness of his pictures, but to the beauty of his values of color and harmony, to the striking distinction of his abundant grey tone values, and above all to the great melodic values, the sublimes that painting can create and accessible in their highest degree only to the very greatest artists.

The Art of Francisco de Goya

What strike us most when we try to differentiate the work of Manet with Goya’s art are its violent contrasts and staccato breaks of continuity. His sojourn in Italy was rewarded by certain local fame corroborated by a group of important commissions. The trustees of El Pilar asked his collaboration in the decoration of the new church. The Aragonese nobility became his clients in the decorations for the Palace of Sobradiel. The religious communities became his patrons with the murals of the Carthusian Monastery of Aula Dei.

His first painting in El Pilar was a large composition representing the Glory of Heaven, finished in 1772, and executed in the vault of the little choir. This is a timid and cold imitation of the Italian frescoes inspired by the ceiling decorations of Tiepolo in the Royal Palace at Madrid. Not skilled in foreshortening, Goya avoided Tiepolo’s fantastic visual angles, but adopted his scheme of composition and lighting.

The murals from the Palace of Sobradiel (Saragossa Museum) small compositions painted in oil on a preparation of dark red color reveal his overwhelming passion for expression which, in this early stage, frequently made his drawing inaccurate and the lighting harsh and false. Although the predominant and shocking combination of red and yellow gives a strange appearance to these paintings, they possess in embryo, what Goya was to express later. Figures and drapery are well articulated and, despite a baroque feeling, awareness of Mengs’ theories is apparent. They are generally considered contemporary with the paintings of Aula Dei, but their affinity to the Sacristy of Fuendetodos may indicate a time even earlier than the dated decoration of El Pilar. The Sobradiel and El Pilar decorations are a natural consequence of the combined influences of Italy and Madrid.

In the paintings for the Carthusian Monastery of Aula Dei, Saragossa, Goya displays a more monumental style, foreshadowing later figural types. Lighting effects are still Tiepolesque, but the nebulous baroque quality is virtually abandoned. The Epiphany is an experiment in simple figures, strongly lighted, against a dark background, but in the Birth of the Virgin, another lighting experiment is essayed; the single light source is modified by a complex symphony of reflections–a technique favored in later paintings. The Saints of the Church of Remolinos are close to the Aula Dei style.

From 1785 to the end of the century Goya enjoyed the most brilliant period of his career. Despite the terrible illness of 1792-1793, the great turning-point of his life, and despite occasional lapses into the facile and insignificant, he came steadily into his own, developing a technique and style whose consummate ease and freedom were unrivaled. He worked hard, lived intensely and tried his hand at every possible genre: official portraits, portraits of friends, portraits of children, tapestry cartoons, decorative paintings, religious pictures, mural paintings, genre scenes, allegorical pictures, drawings and etchings — a blaze of genius lighting up the somber, threatening sky of the late 18th century. To this glorious creative period belong four masterpieces: the frescos in San Antonio de la Florida (1798), The Caprices (1799), The Family of Charles IV (1800), The Portrait of the Countess of Chinchón (1800).

Of the seven paintings made in 1787 to decorate La Alameda de Osuna, The Swing, The Accident, The Coach attacked by Bandits and The Greasy Pole now belong to the Duke of Montellano, Madrid, and The Injured Mason (or The Building of the Castle) and The Procession to Count Romanones, Madrid; The Herd of Bulls was formerly in the De Nemes Collection, Budapest. These themes are typical of those Goya was then using in the tapestry cartoons, and in fact The Swing and The Injured Mason were practically duplicated in two such cartoons now in the Prado — with this difference, that here there are fewer figures and the brushwork is noticeably freer.


  • Goya Book by Jose Gudiol; Hyperion Press, 1991. 128 pgs.
  • Manet Book by Georges Bataille, James Emmons, Austryn Wainhouse; Albert Skira, 1995. 136 pgs.
  • The Impressionists Book by Ludwig Goldscheider, Wilhelm Uhde; The Phaidon Press, 1997. 180 pgs.

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