Manet’s portraiture, observes PHILIP HENSHER, is devoted to the image that is controlled not by the conventions of the form.
Manet was the last French painter to love black for a very long time. The museum habit of placing him among the Impressionists has a curious effect. In New York’s Metropolitan Museum, stepping from the interminable Renoir rooms into the Manet room produces a shock; stepping back produces another one, not quite in reverse. Renoir, who believed and said that black did not exist, that all shadows had a colour, apparently succeeded a painter who loved the knife-edge contrasts of black. The intense matadors of Manet give way to the smiling pastel matrons of Renoir; dramatic costumes, as if for a stage performance or a last appearance in the arena, are succeeded by a natural sincerity. Black disappeared after Manet, not to reappear until Matisse. Pleasingly, the aged Renoir lived to be deeply shocked by the black horizontal bar in Matisse’s Intérieur à Nice, now in Philadelphia.
Image: Édouard Manet, Un Bar aux Folies Bergère (1881)