Manet’s Music in the Tuileries (1862)

Manet's Music in the Tuileries depicts a fashionable crowd from the artist's own social circle gathering to listen to an afternoon concert in a park in central Paris. The audience consists of identifiable portraits of painters, poets, art critics and at least one composer but, remember, paintings by great artists are not snapshots.1 They are depictions of their own mind.

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Manet, Music in the Tuileries (1862) Oil on canvas. National Gallery, London

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Manet's scene is a modern update of Courbet's imaginary view of his own studio in 1855 (left). There the artist sitting by his easel performs in front of the personalities who have had some influence on his art. Although performance art only became common among visual artists in the late twentieth century, artists had thought of painting as a performance several centuries earlier.2

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Courbet, Studio of the Painter (1855) Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris

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At far left in Manet's composition, cut in half by the frame, stands Manet himself behind his dapper friend and fellow-painter, Albert de Balleroy. The latter looks towards the "actual" artist painting the scene who was, like us, looking down from the bandstand. By implication, Manet is the orchestra performing for his audience below. Not just performance but music too has had a long but little known history in painting as an allegory of the act of painting. Manet, well aware of that history, had already made use of the theme two years earlier in The Spanish Singer.

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Detail of Manet's Music in the Tuileries (1862)

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In the lower right corner of Manet's canvas is a vignette that alludes to the painting's main theme, painting itself.  At the bottom the artist's signature "ed. Manet" is painted as though it is behind the child's hoop thus drawing attention to painting's illusion. The rest of the vignette's meaning is revealed here for the first time. The circular hoop refers to the role of Manet's "eye" (both circular) while the stick used to make the hoop roll rests on the seat of the chair like a paintbrush on a palette. Underneath it, the widely-arched chair legs form an M for Manet. Grouped together, the "eye", "brush", "palette" and initial are a breathtaking exercise in concise composition.

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Detail of Manet's Music in the Tuileries (1862)

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Notes:

1. The audience includes portraits of the poet Charles Baudelaire, the composer Jacques Offenbach, the critic Champfleury and the artist Henri Fantin-Latour.

2. Prominent examples of the artist-as-a-performer include Veronese's self-portrait with portraits other prominent artists playing musical instruments in the foreground of The Wedding at Cana (1562-3)  and  the lone actor in Watteau's Gilles (c.1718-19), both paintings in the Louvre.

 

The artistic duo at the edge of the frame has many precedents in art, the actual painter represented by both a self-portrait and a second painter as his alter ego.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 21 Mar 2012. © 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.