Manet’s Monet Family in the Garden (1874)

Edouard Manet never became an Impressionist. Yet his Monet Family in the Garden (below), along with other contemporaneous works, has a brighter palette than he had previously used leading many to claim that he learnt from Impressionist techniques and preferred their more vivid colors.1 The truth, I believe, is more subtle. 

In summer 1874 Manet stayed with Monet, a leader of the group, at the latter's rented house in Argenteuil. One day, to start this canvas, he posed Monet's wife, Camille, and their son by a tree (top). Monet himself stoops to pick a flower nearby. Often thought to be just a pretty picture, the painting's critical passages have still been judged astutely. Brettell called Camille "a wonderful buttery concoction of wet paint". Another noted that the way the three Monets - father, mother, son - match the relationship of the three chickens must be meaningful.2 (Detail below)

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Manet, Monet Family in the Garden (1874) Oil on canvas. 61 x 99.7cm. Metropolitan Museum, New York
Bottom: Detail of above

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Others recognize that Camille's pose echoes her own seated figure in Monet's Women in the Garden" (detail, at top), a painting Manet knew well.3 This means, using the EPPH paradigm, that Camille's figure by Manet (bottom) is, poetically speaking, "Monet's painting" within Manet's. That's why Camille, a "concoction of wet paint", emerges from the green ground, which is thinly-painted in areas, as if it was bare "canvas".3 Yet, with her head on her hand, she also echoes Manet's celebrated model in Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1863) making her "Manet's model" too. There, too, the center is "a painting"

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Monet, Women in the Garden, detail (1866-7) Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Bottom: Manet's Monet Family in the Garden (1874)

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Monet picks a flower, actually a dab of red pigment, as though the curved garden is a "giant palette" (top). Monet, an alter ego of his near-namesake, is on the "palette" painting Camille. That explains the bright colors; this is Monet's "painting" on Monet's "palette", not Manet's.3 Interestingly when Monet later moved to Giverny he also turned the view from his house into a "palette". The beds stretched in bands of flowers of the same color from red to blue. 

The rose, by the way, also represents the honor of a great artist, a traditional theme of art in general.4. Here it mimics the actual rosette of the Légion d'Honneur, as seen in Ingres' portrait of a composer (lower right).

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Diagram of Monet Family in the Garden
Bottom L: Detail of Manet's Monet Family in the Garden (1874)
Bottom R: Detail of Ingres' Portrait of Luigi Cherubini (1841)

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The central motif is a modern take on the "Madonna and Child". Camille in white is a Parisian goddess. This makes her husband the divine creator or the saintly craftsman, Joseph. Yet her hat, seen in other works by Manet, makes her Manet's alter ego too, just as Monet is "Manet". This painting of a "painting on a palette" is really Manet's mental image of its own conception.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Manet, Monet Family in the Garden (1874) 

Click image to enlarge.

That's why Camille's skirt is oval. Seen sideways, a portion of her dress is brighter and centered like the yolk on a fried egg. It is a "pupil" in the center of a giant "eye" aimed upwards. Anatomically odd, the swelling dress seems to suggest her womb or groin underneath as Manet's inner eye, the poetic source of his art. Light floods through this "eye" into his mind, this Garden of Eden, signaling as in sacred art the realization of the Self.  

See conclusion below








 

Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Diagram of Manet's Monet Family in the Garden
Bottom: Detail of Manet's Monet Family in the Garden

Click image to enlarge.

That brings us to the chickens.5 Spiritually we are all born chicks as Manet implies of the Monet family; most remain little more than that, driven by animal urges that the Church relabeled The Seven Deadly Sins. Pride, envy, greed etc., while not desirable, are not sins but natural and part of nature. Through culture and experience we learn to curb those passions so that we can fulfil our potential as human beings. Manet, like other artists, helps show us the way. 

It is, I believe, in part their own journey to self-realization that makes certain artists universal. Without the consciousness and knowledge gained from such practices (eg. that all humans are good and there is good in everything) their art might speak to certain cultures but not all.6 As for us, we too begin like chickens but can, if we so desire, tame the ego and gain greater awareness. Art, when read like that, is a guide to higher life, a manual on how to "paint ourselves" from chickens who cannot fly into divinities. In gaining control over our minds, we ennoble (as with the Légion d'Honneur) the human spirit. Besides, since we "paint" ourselves anyway, we should learn to "paint" a better self-portrait.
 

Notes:

1. Manet 1832-1883 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art), p.

2. Richard Brettell, Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890 (New Haven: Yale University Press) 2000, p. 87; John House, “Seeing Manet Whole”, Art in America, Nov. 1983, p. 183

3. Manet made similar use of Berthe Morisot's style in Before the Mirror (1876). See entry.

4. Manet in his paintings often "decorated" himself with the Légion d'Honneur, France's highest honor, as a sign of his destiny though he only received the award late in life. Velazquez stands at the left of Las Meninas with the Order of Santiago on his chest even though, like Manet, the painting was completed before he received it. See examples under the theme State Honors.

5. The chickens, thickly painted like the rose, may represent other colors on the "palette". The various oranges of the cock, for instance, become Camille's fan.

6. The equivalent goal, in almost all esoteric traditions, is the very essence of Truth and Wisdom.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 16 Oct 2014. © 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.