Manet’s The Suicide (c.1871)
In Manet’s Suicide the victim still holds the gun with which he shot himself, a hint either that we are witnessing the very moment that he shot himself or that all is not quite what it seems. That feature has intrigued Manet specialists before: a dead man would have dropped the gun.1 The man, of course, is a painter. His shirt is white like a blank canvas. The gun is “his brush” and, in "shooting" himself, the man has painted himself equating the liquid of life with the essence of paint. Besides, as noted elsewhere, the word execution often signifies the making of an artwork while death symbolizes its completion.
Just as Titian, Van Dyck and other artists yearned for the recognition of a ruler through the gift of a gold chain and depicted those chains in their paintings so Manet, in the nineteenth century, yearned for the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, to indicate that he, like great masters before him, had been honored by the State. It was a constant leitmotif in Manet's art, still unrecognized by specialists today. That is why the red wound on the white shirt resembles the short red ribbon of the Legion d’Honneur. The dead man is “a great artist.”
See conclusion below
More Works by Manet
There is more to the Tragic Actor than meets the eye. Find out what's there that others cannot see.
One of the many ways artists "paint themselves" is by painting others as earlier great masters.
Léon Leenhof, Manet's young son, is posed in this print as though he is selecting paint from his tray (palette) and is about to apply it to the sheet of paper we are looking at.
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