Manet’s Flying Raven (1875)

Manet's ex-libris (left) for Stéphane Mallarmé's translation of Edgar Allan Poe's poem The Raven seems remarkably simple - and natural.1 Yet this bird is highly artificial, constructed from elements that have more to do with art than flight. Let's look at the most difficult first.

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Manet, Ex-libris for "The Raven" (1875) Lithograph on paper. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Click image to enlarge.

Notice how the upper contour of the wings differ (top), one ragged, the other smoother. The former, if given a quarter-turn (bottom left), seems to use a very common method to depict - most approximately - the artist in profile. The intentional lack of definition suggests that any one form in Manet's mind, especially his own identity, might melt into another with the bird's wings, of course, as the flight of his own imagination merged with the poet Poe's.2 Edgar Poe had had huge influence on Manet's late friend Charles Baudelaire as he clearly later had on Mallarmé too. Indeed Manet and Mallarmé used to study Poe's writings together and Poe at the time was said to be more widely admired in France than in his native America.3 That Manet should have depicted Poe as alive in his own mind is not at all surprising.

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Manet, Ex-libris for "The Raven" (1875)
Bottom L+R: Detail and diagram of above, rotated 90° rightwards.
Bottom C: Photograph of Manet (c.1868), detail

Click image to enlarge.

Supporting this reading are the unrecognized forms of the raven's claws and beak. The avian "hands", combining craft and imagination into one symbol, form the letters E and M inverted for Edouard Manet. The lower branch of the E is bent downwards to help better resemble real claws while disguising the underlying initials. Right next to them is the bird's beak which, in isolation, resembles the metal nib of a pen, split realistically down the middle into its two tines. It's as though the bird is in the process of drawing his own claws and thereby "signing" his sketch with Manet's initials, the painter painting himself.4




 

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail and diagram of Manet's Ex-libris for "The Raven" (1875)

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

1. Manet drew six images for Mallarme's translation of Poe's The Raven. The cover was an equally simple but regal head of the raven in profile; the second was this ex-libris inside the cover.

2. There are many similar examples on EPPH by earlier French artists such as Poussin and Boucher, and Manet himself. 

3. Kenneth Silverman, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance (New York: Harper Collins) 1992, pp. 319-20 cited in de Medeiros, see note 4.

4. For a detailed account of Poe's influence on Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Manet, see Melissa de Medeiros, "A New Order of Beauty - Manet, Mallarmé and Poe" in A Painter's Poet: Stéphane Mallarmé and his Impressionist Circle (New York: Hunter College) 1999, pp. 61-7

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 06 Jul 2015. © 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.