Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Eros Awakes to a Storm of Indignation

Paris and the "Salon des Refuses"



When one considers the shameless indecency with which he foists his Dejeuner sur I'herbe on respectable visitors, all that is left to say is: as a painter, Edouard Manet possesses all the qualities necessary to be rejected unanimously by all the juries on earth.

Anonymous letter to the Gazette de France, 1863


Emperor Napoleon III derived pleasure in being benevolent. Under his patronage, the "Salon des Refuses" was held in 1863, an exhibition of paintings that had not been considered good enough for the official Paris Salon. Nevertheless, when the Emperor entered the room, he went into a rage. Who could have painted such a monstrous thing?

When he found out that the painter of the work thus stigmatised was Edouard Manet, he was not only furious, but appalled. The thirty-two-year-old painter Manet came from a hitherto respectable bourgeois family: His father was a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Justice and his mother came from a long line of diplomats. Edouard was the Prodigal Son. Although his family wanted him to study law, he failed the entrance examination. He was then sent to sea as a cadet on the "Havre et Guadeloupe" line. Life at sea did not agree with him and he was incapable of tying nautical knots. Yet he did learn some things that might prove useful to him as a painter, which was what he now intended to become. Despite his father's opposition to his plans, the family finally acquiesced.

The cause of the scandal was that the naked figure at her ease enjoying breakfast outdoors was the naturalistic figure of what could be a real woman, not an allegorical personification of "Sin" or "Lust" and certainly not recognisably mythological. The woman represented was obviously modern. She was in the company of men who were dressed in the fashion of the latter half of the nineteenth century. In fact, this was a group portrait of identifiable public figures.

Criticism of the picture was devastating. Public condemnation ranged from biting irony to malicious chuckles at the artist's expense. Only the writer Emile Zola and several other open-minded friends of the arts stood up for Manet, even daring to call him "one of the leading personalities of the age" and a "courageous man" who had lent the exhibition "brilliance, intellectual elan, wit and the appeal of the unexpectedly novel". Today one might be inclined to think that the vehement reaction to the painting stemmed from the public's annoyance at having been caught out in collective forbidden fantasies by a sharp-witted voyeur.


Edouard Manet
Le Dejeuner sur I'herbe
Musee d'Orsay, Paris


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