The revolutionary painters who changed how we think about art were the topic of a lecture on Feb. 4 by Dr. Barbara Lynes, curator at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.
I will concentrate in this article on the contrasts she drew between the traditional painter Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904) and one of the revolutionaries, Edouard Manet (1832-1883).
Lynes noted that the official art exhibition in Paris, known as the Salon, finally established a jury system in 1748 to assess what artworks would be admitted each year. An official stamp of approval, admittance to the Salon gave both painters and patrons a chance of financial stability. “Careful and precisely painted works were the most highly prized by the judges,” she said.
Among these was an entry from 1857, The Duel After the Masquerade by Gerome. “It is quite atmospheric and was hugely popular at the time it was painted,” explained Lynes.
Quite a different fate awaited Luncheon in the Grass by Manet- it was rejected by the Salon in 1863 and was instead exhibited in a competing art exhibit known as the Salon des Refuses: a Salon of art refused by the Salon. Perhaps just because banned things pique the curiosity, Lynes said the Refuse Salon “attracted more people than the regular Salon.”
In Manet’s painting, the illusion of a 3D world is compromised. “The areas around the background figure are quite flat. We don’t really look into the picture like the Gerome, we look up rather than into the scene. The Salon jury considered this an affront to their propriety.”
By 1865 Manet decided to flout every convention with his painting Olympia. “Guards had to protect it from infuriated patrons,” Lynes said. Clearly modelled after Titian’s Venus of 1538, Manet has replaced the recumbent figure of the goddess with that of a prostitute. In the Titian painting we find a little dog, a symbol of fidelity. In the Manet we see a black cat, symbol of prostitution.
The style is also quite different from the Titian, one of those revolutions that served as the backbone of this talk. “Instead of a deep recession into space, we have a background that really stops our eye.” Whatever you may think of Manet’s works, there is no denying they represent a breaking point in the development of art, one that members of the audience were hopefully nudged to explore more on their own.
Next in this art series by Dr. Lynes will be on March 11.