Smoke and smoking are long-time symbols for the imagination, in part because of the reverie associated with smoking and in part because smoke itself, like clouds, is amorphous and shifts shape.
Manet's smoker raises his hand in a gesture similar to Manet's son in Interior at Ararchon and Soap Bubbles though here his figure has been turned to face us. It is as though the surface of the canvas is now "his canvas". This sense that the smoker is painting in a mirror further implies the sine qua non of true art: every painter paints himself.
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The figure known as Bon Bock is “an artist” too though he no longer has the gesture of a painter. He merely holds the bowl of his pipe towards us and smokes, thus dreaming.
The red circle of the pipe bowl is a hidden symbol for the little red rosette of France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur. Great artists, from Titian onwards, used the gold chains awarded by emperors in the Renaissance or the honors awarded in their own country as symbols for their standing among great masters. Manet, who yearned for such honors himself, made constant reference to the Legion d'Honneur in his art in order to express his mastery.
More Works by Manet
Find out how the viewer in this garden scene is really inside Manet's mind
Leran how the initials of an artist's name can appear anywhere. Not all is what it seems.
This etching of an Odalisque by Manet could easily be interpreted as just a variation on a popular theme, an oriental woman reclining. Look carefully, though, and she becomes a painter.
Original Publication Date on EPPH: 20 Apr 2010. © 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.