Manet’s Boy Carrying a Tray (1860-61)
Léon Leenhof, Manet's young son, is posed in this print as though he is selecting paint from his tray (palette) and is about to apply it to the sheet of paper we are looking at.
This drawing of Manet's natural or adopted son, Léon Leenhof, uses a pose often seen in a studio. Indeed anyone who has seen an artist at work should recognize the accuracy of Manet’s observation. The pose is originally based on one Titian had used in a painting long thought to have been modeled by his daughter.1 She too stands like an artist. Thus, just as Léon represents Manet and Titian's daughter represents Titian, so Léon by inference must also represent the Renaissance master because form carries meaning.
In support, Léon's figure appears later in the dark background of Manet’s Balcony. It is so dark that the figure is barely visible. Nevertheless, his son “paints” the scene in front of him, just as he does in Boy Carrying a Tray.
Think of Picasso on film famously painting from the other side of a piece of glass or in a photograph with a flashlight. Léon is in the dark background of The Balcony, not only to represent the depth of the artist’s mind, but for the same reason that the foreground of Manet’s sketch known as Interior at Arachon is dark. The boy is on a different level of reality than the trio in the foreground. As in Boy Carrying A Tray, he is painting the larger figures from behind.
More Works by Manet
See how smoke and mirrors turn the outside of Manet's studio into the inside
Artists do not have to use their own features in a portrait of someone else. There are other ways of identifying with the sitter as Manet demonstrates in this portrait.
Learn how one artist shows their identification with another
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