Sunday, 7 April 2013

Manet and friends

 Belatedly, but finally to MANET @ RA thanks to early morning visit, which was good to avoid crowding, and though the selection feels sparse, filling only just over half the galleries, that is better than the blockbuster overload. i hadn't paid attention so did not realise the focus is on portraits -  uneven in parts with weaker items but some stunning male full-lengths with  compelling presence and occupying the picture space at once firmly anchored yet not standing on anything visible.  

 I was very pleased to see the small head of Victorine Meurent, as herself rather than in costume or as Olympia.  Her creamy skin, white blouse and light cobalt ribbon above Titian hair remind me that Manet and Rossetti were friends at one remove, as it were, and that DGR was originally to have been included in Fantin-Latour's group portrait Hommage  à Delacroix, only was too dilatory to get  himself to France in time.  He welcomed Fantin to London soon after, so Fantin took DGR in charge when he went  with Fanny Cornforth to Paris in the autumn.  Fantin genially admitted that their tastes in art were entirely different, also observing that British artists valued sentiment, French artists savoir. 
In Paris DGR visited Manet and could well have seen Victorine’s portrait in the studio, along with Olympia and Déjeuner  sur l’herbe.  Though he abused ‘French slop’, this was rivalry, for he also responded competitively, saying it would put English artists on their mettle, and he was certainly stimulated, because unsettled, by Manet’s works. 
So how coincidental was his new image of fair-skinned Fanny plaiting her tawny hair, wearing a white shift with a slash of blue ribbon?  An acknowledged essay in colour, without sentiment notwithstanding its poetic ‘source’. The following year, when Manet wished to exhibit at the RA, Rossetti insisted on handling the works – ‘deux grands tableaux’, one of which featured a guitar, possibly Victorine as street-singer – although in the event neither was hung, which indicates that DGR did not over-exert himself.

Other links with Britain are glimpsed in the current show:  the RA’s own large format photo (mislabelled a carte-de-visite) by David Wilkie Wynfield, and a study for the Balcony that was bought from Manet’s studio sale by Sargent….


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