Manet’s Faure as Hamlet (1877)

Manet's portrait of the famous baritone (and art collector) Jean-Baptiste Faure depicts him as Hamlet at the moment when the Prince of Denmark sees the king's ghost. This makes Manet facing the astonished actor the king himself, a subtle reference to Velazquez's masterpiece, Las Meninas, in which the artist also stands where the king and queen must have been standing. Royalty here symbolizes the purified soul of the artist which having reached perfection creates perfection. Nancy Locke has linked Faure with the artist too. "Faure's blank expression....is a look that Manet would re-create two years later in his Self-Portrait in which the brush replaces Hamlet's sword."1

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Manet, Faure as Hamlet (1877) Oil on canvas. Folkwang Museum, Essen

Click image to enlarge.

Remarkably, although she notes that the sword becomes Manet's brush in the Self-Portrait, she does not recognize the sword as a brush in Faure as Hamlet. Swords in Manet's art are always substitutes for his brush and he even molded the reflection at the end of Faure's sword to resemble a brush (see detail). In choosing Faure, the performer and well-known art collector as his subject, Manet depicts himself on stage, dreaming, so to speak, with a vast art collection in his mind. Manet chose his subjects carefully, blending their interests with that of his art. Of course, Hamlet in "painting" the king, his father, is painting himself just as Manet, prince of painters, does too.

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Manet, Faure as Hamlet (1877) 
R: Detail of sword from Faure as Hamlet

Click image to enlarge.

Just as I have shown the sword in Manet's  Mlle. V in the Costume of an Espada to be a brush and the cape over her arm to be a palette, so here Faure's feathery hat repeats the traditional oval-shape of a palette. His pointing figure, moreover, touching the right edge of the canvas "paints" as well thereby suggesting, as in an artist's duel, that he has both brushes drawn. The sword may paint the picture we look at while his finger "paints" the ghost he sees. Or perhaps vice versa. The short, unrealistic V-shaped shadow at his foot probably credits Velazquez and his portrait of the king's jester Pablo de Vallodolid as his source.  

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Manet, Faure as Hamlet (1877) Folkwang Museum, Essen

Click image to enlarge.

There, too, if the royal clown is performing for his patron, the artist himself is in the role of the king watching. For more on how Pablo's hand near the edge of the frame "paints", see the article: Velazquez's Pablo de Vallodolid.

Captions for image(s) above:

Velazquez, The Buffoon Pablo de Vallodolid (1636-7) Prado Museum, Madrid

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

1. Nancy Locke, Manet and the Family Romance (Princeton University Press) 2001, p. 145 

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 12 Oct 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.