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  Edouard Manet

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Edouard Manet
 
 
 

Bar at the Folies-Bergere
1881-82
Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

 
 
 
 
 

Portrait of Antonin Proust
1880
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo


Portrait of Emilie Ambre in the role of Carmen
1880
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia






Portrait of Alphonse Maureau
1880
Art Institute of Chicago






The Waitress
1879

 


The Spanish Singer
Oil on canvas
1860
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan



 


Woman in a Tub
Pastel on canvas
1879
Musée d’Orsay, Paris





Portrait of a Lady with a Black Fichu
1878
Art Institute of Chicago


Moss Roses in a Vase
Oil on canvas
1882



 

Blonde Woman with Bare Breasts
Oil on canvas
1878
Musée d’Orsay, Paris



 


Basket of Fruit
Oil on canvas
1864



Branch of White Peonies with Pruning Shears
Oil on canvas
1864


Roses in a Champagne Glass
1882
Burrell Collection, Glasgow



Flowers in a Crystal Vase
Oil on canvas
1882




 

Bathers on the Seine
Oil on canvas
Museum of Art, Sao Paolo


 


A Good Glass of Beer
1873
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 
 
 
 



Edouard Manet
Le Dejeuner sur I'Herbe
1863





Edouard Manet
Olympia
1863

 
 
 
 
 
The Execution of Maximilian

1868



Edouard Manet
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian
1868
Stadtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim


The wrong uniform exposes the true culprit

Edouard Manet intended this painting to denounce a political crime and stir up French public opinion. The imperial censor intervened, however, hindering his design. The authorities discreetly informed him that it would not be worth his while to submit his "otherwise excellent" painting to the official Parisian art exhibition, the Salon of 1869.
Manet's work showed the climax of a drama which had occupied the European press for years. An}- regular newspaper reader would immediately have recognized the scene: during the earlv morning of 19th June 1867, near the Mexican town of Queretaro, a Republican firing squad had executed the Austrian Archduke Maximilian and two of his generals. For three years Maximilian had ruled as Emperor of Mexico. Officially invited to the land by a conservative minority, he had been persuaded to participate in the ill-fated adventure by the French Emperor Napoleon III, who had also supplied an army. When Napoleon withdrew his troops from Mexico, Maximilian was taken prisoner by his enemies. Forced to abdicate, he was sentenced to death and executed.
"You can understand the horror and the anger of the censors", wrote Manet's friend, the writer Emile Zola, in 1869. "An artist has dared put before their eyes so cruel an irony: France shoots Maximilian!" Manet had delivered a topical painting on a political scandal - as effective a medium at that time as the photos in some of today's news magazines. France had a tradition in such paintings: Theodore Gericault, in 1819, had attacked the criminal incompetence of the naval authorities in his Raft of the Medusa, and in his Massacre at Chios (1824), Eugene Delacroix had pilloried Europe's indifference to the Greek liberation struggle. Both works were exhibited, caused a sensation, and achieved a political effect.
Manet must have hoped his Execution would be similarly received, and began work shortly after first reports of the execution reached Paris in early July of 1867. One and a half years later he had produced a small study in oils, a lithograph (prints of which the censor forbade him to sell), and three large-scale paintings. None of these works was exhibited in France during the artist's lifetime. The Second Empire's demise in 1870 brought no improvement, for few people in Republican France desired to see paintings that reminded them of the humiliating Mexican episode.
The canvases were consequently kept rolled up in a dark corner of Manet's studio; the largest, after the artist's death in 1883, was cut into several pieces, fragments later finding their way to London; the oil sketch, meanwhile, went to Copenhagen, and the first version of the large-scale work to Boston. The final version, completed in late 1868, and measuring 252 x 305 cm, carries the date of the execution. It was bought by citizens of the German town of Mannheim in 1909, who donated it to the Kunsthalle. The political atmosphere in the German Reich at the time was such that any reference to the fickleness and perfidity of France could be sure of a warm welcome.
 

"Napoleon le Petit"



The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (detail)


While the squad fires upon its victims, a sergeant wearing a red hat, who, at first glance, seems peculiarly uninvolved, cocks his rifle. The inglorious task awaiting him is to deliver the coup de grace to Emperor Maximilian. The sergeant, with his beard and sharply defined nose, bears a striking resemblance to Napoleon III. The similarity was intended. Manet, of upper middle-class background, was no friend of the Second Empire. By the time he came to paint the final version of the Execution, he had realized, like the majority of his contemporaries, that it was Napoleon who was responsible for Maximilian's ignominious demise.

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-1873) was contemptuously referred to by his enemies as "Napoleon le Petit". He spent most of his life trying to emulate his famous uncle, Napoleon I. In 1848 he was successfully elected President of the Republic; three years later he became emperor by virtue of a coup d'etat. His next plan was to establish French hegemony in Europe. However, he was less fortunate in foreign affairs than in establishing his position at home. In the early 1860s, he endeavoured in vain to influence Italy. Searching for a new outlet for his intervention politics, he concluded, somewhat astoundingly, that the distant land of Mexico offered the key to establishing France as a great power.

It was a power vacuum which enticed Napoleon to Mexico, a country rich in mineral resources, but badly run down and heavily in debt. Since gaining its independence, it had been torn by chaos and anarchy, with a civil war raging between the conservatives - the aristocracy, big landowners and church - and the liberal, Republican forces.
When the reformer Benito Juarez was elected President in 1861, his opponent and the loser of the election, General Miguel Miramon, emigrated to France where he was succesful in enlisting the support of influential French financiers and of the court itself. Napoleon conceived of a plan to win Mexico while its powerful neighbour, America, was involved in the Civil War. Napoleon wanted to establish a "bulwark" on the American continent against Anglo-Amercian expansion - a Catholic, "Latin-American" empire, which would enjoy French protection, and from which France would profit economically.

From 1861 onwards, and under various pretexts, France sent 40,000 troops across the Atlantic. They were followed three years later, once the country had been temporarily "pacified", by the Austrian Archduke Maximilian, whose fate, as Emperor of Mexico, was utterly dependent on Napoleon. When he arrived, the land was still largely under the control of Republican forces. His sole support as a ruler, besides French bayonets, was Napoleon's solemn vow, laid down in writing, that France would never deny its support to the new empire "whatsoever the state of affairs in Europe".
However, the American Unionists, emerging victorious from the Civil War in 1865, recognized Juarez as the legitimate Mexican president, sending arms and refusing to tolerate a French presence on the North American continent. Napoleon finally acquiesced to U.S. diplomatic pressure, for his position in Europe was under serious threat. He needed every man he could muster to defend the Rhine against a superior Prussian army. The last French soldier left Mexico in early 1867. Napoleon III, in tears, had broken his word. This cost him whatever popular credit he had once enjoyed and contributed to the rapid decline of the Second Empire. Mexico proved both the Moscow and the Waterloo of "Napoleon le Petit".

The role of the Mexicans




The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (detail)


Not unlike spectators at a bullfight, a crowd of Mexicans has gathered in the background to watch the execution of the Emperor. They were probably part of the great mass of mestizos, mulattos, Indians and blacks who lived without rights or property. Benito Juarez, a full-blooded Indian and former President of the High Court, had guaranteed them civic rights for the first time in his Constitution of 1857, expropriating the Church to provide the people with land. Juarez was their man, and they gave him their support in the guerilla war against the French.
Mexican national pride was, from the outset, unlikely to grant much of a welcome to a foreign monarch arriving from a distant continent. When Maximilian and his wife landed at Veracruz on 28th May 1864, a deathly hush fell on the harbour; the inhabitants had all stayed at home. With the withdrawal of the French troops, Maximilian's fate was sealed. Abandoned by his Mexican officers, he was taken prisoner by the Republicans and placed before a military tribunal. Sentenced to death, he was refused a pardon by Juarez, a step which led to an international outcry. The President was accused of flagrantly violating international law.
When news of the execution arrived in Paris, the ensuing protest was therefore initially directed against the Mexicans. Commencing the painting in 1867, Manet may originally have wished to denounce the Mexicans: the first version of the Execution, now at Boston, shows the squad and sergeant in Mexican uniforms and sombreros.
In the course of July, however, it gradually dawned on the Parisian public that the true culprit was not Juarez at all, but Napoleon. Manet painted over details of the exotic costumes, refining the wide breeches and sombreros to suggest French uniforms. This gave the first version a peculiarly unfinished, ambiguous character, making it unsuitable for presentation. Manet went to work again, giving the sergeant, in each of the later versions, the features of Napoleon. From now on there could be no doubt of the artist's intention; the artist was criticizing his own government: Maximilian shot by Frenchmen, with the Mexican people as mere spectators.


Dignity befitting a Habsburg




The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (detail)


The Emperor is shown at the place of execution, standing between two loyal generals: dark-skinned General Tomas Mejia, and the former president and infantry commander Miguel Mira-mon. Manet apparently took the Emperor's pale face and blurred features from a contemporary photograph. The French press had reported that Maximilian, on his last journey, had worn a dark suit, as well as the broad-brimmed sombrero of his adopted country. A handsome, erect figure with a thick blond beard, Maximilian had presented himself until the end - according to a conservative Parisian newspaper -with the dignity befitting a true Habsburg. To Napoleon, Maximilian must have seemed the perfect candidate for such an unpromising campaign in distant Mexico. The prospect of " wresting a continent from .the grip of anarchy and poverty" was not without appeal to the thirty-year-old Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria, unhappy as he was in his role as younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph. Condemned to political inactivity in Europe, forced to occupy himself building palaces and collecting butterflies, he leapt at Napoleon's offer of the Mexican throne as if responding to the call of divine Providence.
Beguiled by Romantic dreams, Maximilian ignored all well-meaning warnings. Putting his trust in Napoleon's promises, he embarked on the Mexican adventure -though militarily and financially, the conditions for such an enterprise were as dire as they could be.
The Mexican state was heavily in debt; maintenance costs for the French taskforce alone swallowed up more than its entire annual income. Funds were too low to pay for the upkeep of an indigenous army; the few Mexican soldiers under French command, realizing they were unlikely to be paid for their services, deserted to the Republicans.
With his own zeal fully absorbed by the task of bringing "guidance and refinement to the people", Maximilian left everyday political business to his French advisers, who, deliberately withholding intelligence of the deteriorating military situation, persuaded him to lend his signature to unpopular measures, such as a summary death penalty for the slightest resistance to the imperial government.
When Napoleon withdrew his troops in 1867, Maximilian, with his handful of Austrian and Mexican loyalists, found himself facing an army of 60,000 Republicans who had most of the country under their control. A sense of honour prevented the Emperor from leaving Mexico with the French troops. A Habsburg, he was reported to have said, "did not flee"; nor would he "desert the post which Providence had conferred upon him; no danger, no sacrifice could force him to recoil until such time as his task was fulfilled or destiny was stronger than he."
The Emperor, lured into a strategic cul-de-sac at the town of Queretaro, betrayed by a Mexican officer, gave up after 72 days of siege. He could have escaped even then, for the Republicans saw no advantage in turning him into a martyr. But Maximilian refused to budge, finally leaving his opponents with little choice about what to do.
When his adjutant found a crown of thorns on a broken statue of Christ in the monastery courtyard where the Republicans were holding him prisoner, Maximilian said:" Give it to me; it will suit me well."
Like Christ, he felt himself "betrayed, deceived and robbed ... and finally sold for eleven reales ..." In Edouard Manet's rendering of the execution, the bright, broad rim of the sombrero surrounding the doomed victim's face has the appearance of a halo.

Goya provided the prototype




The Execution of Emperor Maximilian
(detail)

There is one thing I have always wanted to do", Manet once confided to a friend, "I should like to paint Christ on the cross ... What a symbol! ... The archetypal image of suffering." In the Execution scene Manet comes close to achieving this ambition. Emperor Maximilian may not be wearing a crown of thorns, but his left hand, and the hand holding it belonging to Miramon, already show signs of bleeding, though the squad is painted in the very act of firing. The detail is contrived, an allusion to the nail and lance wounds of Christ, the stigmata shown in traditional Crucifixions.

Manet had seen stigmata on the hands of an innocent victim during a journey to Spain: in a secular, and apparently realistic painting. The work was Goya's early 19th-century execution scene, his famous Third of May, 1808, in which invading French troops under Napoleon I murder Spanish patriots. As well as the symbolic wounds, Manet adopted the structural arrangement of Goya's composition, including the position of the firing squad, which, seen from behind, gives the impression of a faceless, anonymous death-machine. The contextual links between the two paintings are not without irony: revolutionary patriots, the victims in Goya's painting, are the perpetrators of a crime in Manet's work; both works show French invading armies at work, and, in each case, a different Napoleon is responsible.




Study for "The Execution of Emperor Maximilian"



However, the French painting retains none of Goya's theatrical emotionalism. Manet transposes the scene from flickering lamplight to the cold grey of dawn, avoiding grandiose gesture, brushing aside the moving circumstantial detail that had been reported in the press: the waiting coffins, the priests, the tears of loyalists who had accompanied the Emperor on his last journey, the blindfolded generals. As a result, he was accused of witholding sympathy; in fact, however, there were artistic reasons for his abstinence. His frieze-like arrangement of figures - the victims and firing squad are unrealistically close together - against the neutral grey of the wall, together with his muted use of colour, acknowledge his debt to the painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) and the tradition of the French history painting.
Academic convention demanded the subject of a history painting be drawn from the Bible, antique mythology or an actual historical event; it had also to be morally or politically edifying and contain a universally significant moral lesson. In Manet's day, this "high" branch of art still commanded the greatest respect, celebrated as it was at the official Salon year after year.


All his life, Manet had craved recogni-ton, preferably in the shape of an official prize, at the Salon: in vain. With The Execution of Maximilian the renewed prospect of success appears to have inspired him with hope yet again. However, by the time he came to paint over the Mexican uniforms, replacing them with French, Manet must have realized that the work could only meet with the opprobrium of the political and artistic establishment. He continued work nonetheless, driven by an ambition even greater than his desire for recognition: the Execution was to be his Crucifixion, and the great, modern history painting of his age. The "moral lesson" "was equally important: to denounce treachery and breach of promise, and lodge an indictment: "France shoots Maximilian!"

Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen

 
 
 
 
 
 
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