Manet’s Music Lesson (c.1868)
The Music Lesson, a slightly stilted composition by the nineteenth-century artist, Edouard Manet has not received much commentary. James Rubin, though, is correct to have noted in his new book that the image of the artist-performer meant a lot to Manet, especially that of the "artist-musician".1 Like all specialists, though, Rubin is unaware that music had been a metaphor for painting in art since at least the Renaissance when Venetian artists started placing music-playing cherubs in front of the Madonna and Child.2
In our example, one "clue" to its meaning is provided by the slightly odd scale: Mme Manet sits nearer to us than Manet himself but her head is so small that his grip on the guitar-neck seems closer. Mme. Manet is "a painting" by her own husband on the guitar. They are in two different realities. As in The Spanish Singer, the musician is the "artist." Here, though, Manet "sits" next to his "painting", a fused mental image of the studio and his art. That is why the lighting on their faces comes from different directions: one is "live" in the studio, the other "painted."
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In a clever little twist, Suzanne Manet points to a score as though following the music her husband is playing. Pointing, though, is a common metaphor in art for painting.3 Her gesture, therefore, suggests that even as a "work of art" she is a female representation of the male artist painting the same music. An artistic mind must be androgynous (containing male and female sides) in order for its creative output to represent us all.
More Works by Manet
There is more to the Tragic Actor than meets the eye. Find out what's there that others cannot see.
See how Manet identifies with a female artist of his own acquaintance, probably without her even knowing
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