Developments in the 19th Century


Art Styles in 19th century - Art Map


The Impressionism


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Edouard Manet




Innovators of Painting

The Impressionist painters confronted nature in a very different way from their predecessors. Their new language not only changed traditional conventions, it overturned the very way of seeing the world and challenged the human relationship with reality. The artists did not record nature as static and unchanging but sought to reflect its constant movement and natural pulse. In a rejection of the age-old principles of academic painting - stillness, symmetry, order, and cleanliness - they cast aside the distinction between foreground and background; the frontal illumination needed for chiaroscuro; the sharpness of outline; the balance of mass and colour; and the solidity of form. In Pissarro's words, "The Impressionists have abandoned the three principles of illusion: line, perspective, and the artificial light of academic painting." This apparent lack of respect angered the public and critics alike. Instead of depicting subjects substantively and definitively, the Impressionists adopted a looser style that was lively and immediate and in a continual process of change. In their paintings, executed en plein air, these artists captured the sighing of the breeze, the constantly changing sky. and the fleeting effects of light reflected on water. Under the strong influence of the Impressionists, the classical painting of landscapes became more ethereal and misty. Unreal shadows and contrived dark tones were now eliminated, and the paint lost the compact density characteristic of Courbet, who said that painting "is an art of sight and should therefore concern itself with things seen." The English artist John Constable (1776-1837) had already sought to evoke the "chiaroscuro of nature in the dew, in the breeze, in the flowering, in the freshness, that no painter has yet succeeded in putting on canvas", using rapid brushstrokes and splashes of pure white paint applied with a palette knife. In Impressionism, it is light, broken into all its composite colours, that floods canvases with freshness and captures the constantly changing atmosphere. The browns and ochres (earth colours) were replaced with the primary colours (red, yellow, and blue), which were blended with complementary colours (green, purple, and orange). Imitating the lively brushstrokes of Delacroix (1798-1863), who had already used pure colour and not mixed his paint, the Impressionists broke colours into a thousand fragments, not only dissolving the outline of form, but flaking the paint itself in order to reflect back every "impression". The surface, varying in thickness and no longer depicted in uniform colours, came alive, nourished by the quantity and variety of comma-shaped brushstrokes. Many other marks were added to enliven the whole canvas and make it appear in continuous motion, using reflections of light and the contrast of complementary colours. The skies of the Impressionists opened up, and the light became millions of particles -opaque, vibrant, and refracting. It went far beyond the delicate, spontaneous brushwork of such artists as Jongkind and Boudin, who had already practised the art of painting en plein air. Impressionism was very much a product of its time, and the movement coincided with the discussion of ideas prompted by discoveries in the field of optics, which, since the beginning of the 19th century, had developed and been published in various journals. These included theories about the composition of colour and the structure of light. In 1839, the chemist Eugene Chevreul published a work on the principles of colour harmonies and contrasts and their use in art. These theories were applied directly to the canvases of the Impressionists.



After several failed attempts to get into the navy, Manet took up painting and studied under Thomas Couture, a famous academic painter of the day. He visited Brazil, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Austria, and Germany and was influenced by the Old Masters, particularly those of the golden ages of Spanish and Venetian painting. His work began to cause controversy in 1863, yet he became the most recognized figure in the Impressionist group, bringing to them his idea of "pure painting".



Edouard Manet (1832-83) took Courbet's realism one step further, so blurring the boundary between objectivity and subjectivity that painting has never recovered from his quiet revolution. After Impressionism, art can never return to a dependence upon a world that exists "out there" apart from the individual artist. Yet it was a quiet revolution only in that Manet was a reticent, gentlemanly artist who desired nothing better than conventional success at the Paris Salons.
Temperamentally Courbet's opposite, with his very fashion-conscious, witty, and urbane attitude, Manet was the archetypal flaneur (see column, right) and was well liked. To the end he could not understand why his work was so reviled by the Parisian art world and seen as an offense. Fortunately a private income enabled him to pursue his course without undue financial distress, but one cannot imagine even a starving Manet ever compromising.

"The father of modern art"

In the past Manet has been included in the all-embracing term of Impressionism, but his art is Realist rather than Impressionist. It was Manet's attitude that influenced the group of younger painters who subsequently became known as the Impressionists. They were also affected by his radical use of strong flat color, broken brush-work, harsh natural lighting, and the generally "raw," fresh appearance of his paintings.
Manet was an extremely cultured and sophisticated man from a well-to-do bourgeois background, yet he painted with a simplicity that is startling. His painting Le Dejeuner sur I'Herbe is the work of an educated artist. The central group is based upon a print that is itself based upon a work by Raphael - nothing Pre-Raphaelite about Manet - and a picnic in the woods was a well-established artistic subject.
What shocked the critics and the public was the startling modernity of it all: the naked woman had a timeless body, but her face and attitude were unmistakably contemporary. One wonders whether the scandal would have been less if the men too had been unclothed. Manet made his subject seem so startlingly likely, a scene that might greet the eye of anyone taking a stroll in the woods.
Ironically, it was the very power of this painting that made it a popular failure, coupled with Manet's highly idiosyncratic use of perspective. The girl bathing in the brook is neither in the picture, nor out of it. Her proportions are "wrong" in relation to the others, so that the three picnickers are enclosed within what seem like two distinct styles of painting: the stooping bather seems flattened and too remote, while the superb still life of carelessly spilled clothes and fruit looks overpoweringly real.
In the center, Victorine Meurent, Manet's favorite model, looks out unabashed and shamelessly at the very intruder each viewer fears might be himself or herself. That classical nymphs should feel at ease with their bodies had long been accepted, but in portraying a modern, fleshly woman realistically, Manet stripped away the social pretenses of his time.


Edouard Manet
Le Dejeuner sur I'Herbe


Edouard Manet




Edouard Manet

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born January 23, 1832, Paris, France
died April 30, 1883, Paris

French painter who broke new ground by defying traditional techniques of representation and by choosing subjects from the events and circumstances of hisown time. His Déjeuner sur l'herbe (“Luncheon on the Grass”), exhibited in 1863 at the Salon des Refusés, aroused the hostility of critics and the enthusiasm of the young painters who later formed the nucleus of the Impressionist group. His other notable works include Olympia (1863) and A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882).

Early life and works

Édouard was the son of Auguste Manet, the chief of personnel at the Ministry of Justice, and Eugénie-Désirée Fournier. From 1839 he was a day pupil at Canon Poiloup's school in Vaugirard, where he studied French and the classics. From 1844 to 1848 he was a boarder at the Collège Rollin, then located near the Panthéon. A poor student, he was interested only in the special drawing course offered by the school.

Although his father wanted him to enroll in law school, Édouard could not be persuaded to do so. When his father refused to allow him to become a painter, he applied for the naval college but failed the entrance examination. He therefore embarked in December 1848 as an apprentice piloton a transport vessel. Upon his return to France in June 1849, he failed the naval examination a second time, and his parents finally yielded to their son's stubborn determination to become a painter.

In 1850 Manet entered the studio of the classical painter Thomas Couture. Despite fundamental differences between teacher and student, Manet was to owe to Couture a good grasp of drawing and pictorial technique. In 1856, after six years with Couture, Manet set up a studio that he shared with Albert de Balleroy, a painter of military subjects. There he painted The Boy with Cherries (c. 1858) before moving to another studio, where he painted The Absinthe Drinker (1859). In 1856 he made short trips to The Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. Meanwhile, at the Louvre he copied paintings by Titian and Diego Velázquez and in 1857 made the acquaintance of the artist Henri Fantin-Latour, who was later to paint Manet's portrait.

During this period, Manet also met the poet Charles Baudelaire, at whose suggestion he painted Concert in the Tuileries Gardens (1862). The canvas, which was painted outdoors, seems to assemble the whole of Paris of the Second Empire—a smart, fashionable gathering composed chiefly of habitués of the Café Tortoni and of the Café Guerbois, which was the rendezvous of the Batignolles artists. As he created the work, passersby looked with curiosity at this elegantly dressed painter who set up his canvas and painted in the open air. At the Salon of 1861, Manet exhibited Spanish Singer (1860), dubbed “Guitarero”by the French man of letters Théophile Gautier, who praised it enthusiastically in the periodical Le Moniteur universel.

Mature life and works

From 1862 to 1865 Manet took part in exhibitions organized by the Martinet Gallery. In 1863 Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff, a Dutch woman who had given him piano lessons and had given birth to his child before their marriage. That same year the jury of the Salon rejected his Déjeuner sur l'herbe , a work whose technique was entirely revolutionary, and so Manet instead exhibited it at the Salondes Refusés (established to exhibit the many works rejected by the official Salon).Although inspired by works of the Old Masters—Giorgione's Pastoral Concert (c. 1510) and Raphael's Judgment of Paris (c. 1517–20)—this large canvas aroused loud disapproval and began for Manet that “carnival notoriety” from which he would suffer for most of his career. His critics were offended by the presence of a naked woman in the company of two young men clothed in contemporary dress; rather than seeming a remote allegorical figure, the woman's modernity made her nudity seem vulgar and even threatening. Critics were also upset by how these figures were depicted in a harsh, impersonal light and placed in a woodland setting whose perspective is distinctly unrealistic.

At the Salon of 1865, his painting Olympia, created two yearsearlier, caused a scandal. The painting's reclining female nude gazes brazenly at the viewer and is depicted in a harsh,brilliant light that obliterates interior modeling and turns her into an almost two-dimensional figure. This contemporary odalisque—which the French statesman Georges Clemenceau was to install in the Louvre in 1907—was called indecent by critics and the public. In his vexation, Manet leftin August 1865 for Spain, but, disliking the food and frustrated by his total lack of knowledge of the language, he did not stay long. In Madrid he met Théodore Duret, who was later to be one of the first connoisseurs and champions of hiswork. The following year, The Fifer (1866), after having been rejected by the Salon jury under the pretext that its modeling was flat, was displayed along with others in Manet's studio in Paris.

When a large number of his works were rejected for the Universal Exposition of 1867, Manet, in imitation of GustaveCourbet, who had the same idea, had a stall erected at the corner of the Place de l'Alma and the Avenue Montaigne, where in May he exhibited a group of works, including his paintings of toreadors and bullfights. He showed about 50 paintings, but these were not received any more favourably than before. His work from this period was varied in character, but in general it seems to represent a greater concern with close relations of tone and complexities of illumination and atmosphere, sometimes exhibiting a freedom of handling comparable to that in Concert in the Tuileries Gardens.

Much impressed by the naturalism of Manet's work, the young novelist Émile Zola undertook to praise it in a long and courageous article published in the Revue du XIX e siècle of January 1, 1867. In the face of the hostility of the public, Zola saw Manet as representative of all artists of importance who begin by offending public opinion. Manet expressed his gratitude in his portrait of Zola shown at the Salon of 1868. Along with his portrait of Zola, Manet exhibited The Balcony (1869), in which there appeared for the first time—in the figure of the Spanish girl seated with her elbow on the railing—a portrait of the artist Berthe Morisot, whom he had met at the Louvre. From then on, Morisot, who was to become one of the leading female French Impressionists, was a frequent visitor to Manet's studio. He painted a series of portraits of her, until her marriage to his brother Eugène Manet.

After the positive reviews published by Zola, Duret, and the art critic Louis-Édmond Duranty, Manet at the Salon of 1870 received an homage in paint, Fantin-Latour's The Studio in Batignolles, which served as a kind of manifesto on his behalf. This large canvas shows Manet painting, surroundedby those who were his defenders at the time: Zola, the painters Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Frédéric Bazille, and the sculptor Zacharie Astruc. The painting was caricatured in the Journal amusant under the title Jesus Painting Among His Disciples.

During the Franco-German War (1870–71), Manet served as a staff lieutenant in the National Guard and witnessed the siege of Paris. In February 1871 he rejoined his family, returning to Paris shortly before the Commune. His studio there was half-destroyed, but he had taken care to store his canvases in a safe place, and he found them intact. The art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel bought almost everything that Manet's studio contained, paying 50,000 francs in the currency of the time. From about this time on, Manet and hisfriends met at the Café Nouvelle-Athènes, which had replaced the Guerbois. In 1872 he visited The Netherlands, where he was much influenced by the works of Frans Hals. Asa result Manet painted Le Bon Bock (1873; “The Good Pint”), which achieved considerable success at the Salon exhibition of 1873.

Later life and works

The year 1874 was chiefly notable for the development of Manet's friendship with the young Impressionist painter Claude Monet, with whom he painted on the banks of the Seine (when they had first met in 1866, the relationship was rather cool). Manet painted his most luminous plein-air picture, Boating (1874), which was set in Le Petit Gennevilliers and depicted two figures seated in the sun in a boat. It was also at Argenteuil that Manet painted Monet Working on His Boat in Argenteuil (1874). Although he was friendly with Monet and the other Impressionists, Manet would not participate in their independent exhibitions and continued to submit his paintings to the official Salon. When The Artist and The Laundress were both rejected by the Salon in 1875, Manet exhibited them along with other paintings in his studio.

When painting Nana (1877), Manet was inspired by the character of a woman of the demimonde whom Zola first introduced in his novel L'Assommoir (1877; “The Drunkard”);in that same year he painted The Plum, one of his major works, in which a solitary woman rests her elbow on the marble top of a café table. He followed these works with The Blonde with Bare Breasts (1878), in which the pearl-white flesh tones gleam with light, and Chez le Père Lathuille (1879), another of Manet's major works, set in a restaurant near the Café Guerbois in Clichy. The latter depicts a coquette somewhat past her prime having lunch with her young lover in yet another of Manet's bold attempts to portray controversial subject matter in a decidedly modern manner. From then on, Manet did a large number of pastels. In broad, determined strokes he captured the features of George Moore (1879), an Irish would-be painter and later novelist who often joined Manet and Edgar Degas at the Café Nouvelle-Athènes.

In 1880 Manet had a one-man exhibition at the offices of the periodical La Vie moderne (“Modern Life”), but his legs were already affected by a malady that was to prove fatal. In 1881 he rented a villa at Versailles, and, by the following year, with his illness progressing at an alarming pace, he went to stay in a villa at Rueil. He took part in an important exhibition of French art that was held in London at Burlington House, and at the Salon he showed A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), a daring composition that intensifies the exchange of glances between the image of the barmaid and the customer before her, allowing the viewer to stand in the customer's place. Radical in its obliteration of the boundary between the viewer and what is viewed, the Bar was Manet's last great contribution to the modern vision of painting. On April 6, 1883, after painting some roses and lilacs, Manet took to his bed. Gangrene developed in his left leg, which was subsequently amputated. He died not long after and was buried in the cemetery of Passy.

In January 1884 a posthumous exhibition of Manet's work was held in the Salle de Melpomène of the École des Beaux-Arts. True to his admiration for the artist, Zola wrote the preface to the catalog. It was after this memorial exhibition that Manet's paintings began to gain prominence.


Manet's debut as a painter met with a critical resistance that did not abate until near the end of his career. Although the success of his memorial exhibition and the eventual critical acceptance of the Impressionists—with whom he was loosely affiliated—raised his profile by the end of the 19th century, it was not until the 20th century that his reputation was secured by art historians and critics. Manet's disregard for traditional modeling and perspective made a critical break with academic painting's historical emphasis on illusionism. This flaunting of tradition and the official art establishment paved the way for the revolutionary work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Manet also influenced the path of much 19th- and 20th-century art through his choice of subject matter. His focus on modern, urban subjects—which he presented in a straightforward, almost detached manner—distinguished him still more from the standards of the Salon, which generally favoured narrative and avoided the gritty realities of everyday life. Manet's daring, unflinching approach to his painting and to the art world assured both him and his work a pivotal place inthe history of modern art.

Pierre Courthion




The sombre mood of Degas' L'Absinthe(1876) is emphasized by his use of cold blue and grey shades. Two cafe regulars are portrayed staring vacantly over their glasses, and the woman's contains the familiar green drink of absinthe. Despite the appearance of spontaneity, in reality, Degas' paintings were carefully composed. "No art was ever less spontaneous than mine," he remarked. L'Absinthe is not a slice of life captured as it unfolds but an evocation of surroundings and atmosphere. The man and woman pictured are two of the artist's friends, the engraver Marcellin Desboutin, a drinking companion from the Cafe Guerbois, and the actress Ellen Andree.
In Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1881-82), we see the audience reflected in the mirror behind the barmaid, with her customer clearly "missing" from the foreground. Thanks to this device, we are given a panoramic vision of the interior. What we see is not the result of realistic observation but the artist's deliberate use of false perspectives. He was nonetheless accused by the critics of incompetence.

Edouard Manet
Bar at the Folies-Bergere
Courtauld Institute Galleries, London



Edouard Manet
The Waitress



Francisco Goya
The Third of May 1808


On June 19 1867, the Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian of Hapsburg, was shot by a firing squad, together with his generals Miramon and Mejia. As the news spread to France, public indignation turned against Napoleon III, who had imposed the reign of Maximilian and then withdrew the military forces that should have sustained it. Manet worked on the subject for over a year, basing his composition on photographs, documents, and eyewitness accounts. He created four oils and lithographs, which in their structure strongly recall Goya's The Third of May 1808 (1814), seen by Manet two years earlier when he visited the San Fernando Academy in Madrid. In Manet's final work, romantic sentiments have faded, the warm, soft colours replaced by black and cold greens. There is no sentimentality, only the action itself captured at the very moment the three men were shot. There is none of the romantic rush that characterized Goya's Struggle against the Mamelukes (1814), with its excited rhythm of time and action. In Manet's work, time is arrested at that instant. The space is clear and clean, and the emperor is positioned at the centre of the trio, like Christ on the cross. However, behind the wall, there is the briefest hint of life beyond this time and place.


Francisco Goya
Struggle against the Mamelukes
Museo del Prado, Madrid.

This belongs to the same series as The Third of May 1808.




Edouard Manet:

The Execution of Maximilian


The wrong uniform exposes the true culprit


Edouard Manet
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian
Stadtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim



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"


Edouard Manet
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian



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

Edouard Manet
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian


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

Edouard Manet
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian



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

Edouard Manet
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian


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.
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

Edouard Manet
Study for "The Execution of Emperor Maximilian"






Edouard Manet
Dead Toreador



painted death scenes in his studio. Dead Christ with Angels (1864) and Dead Toreador (1864) were criticized for the flatness of the figures and the "irrational" use of space. In fact, the latter painting has a decorum and chromatic balance that derive from the example of Velazquez. Fifteen years later, Monet, at his wife's bedside, painted Camille on her Deathbed (1879). He commented: "It is entirely natural to want to reproduce the last image of a person who is about to leave us forever. But even before the idea came to me to set down those features that were so dear to me, I reacted first and foremost to the violent emotions of the colours."


Edouard Manet
Dead Christ with Angels

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Edouard Manet



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