Manet: The Still Life Paintings

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9781885444165: Manet: The Still Life Paintings
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Of all the paintings by the Impressionist master Edouard Manet (1832-1883), nearly one-fifth are still lifes, a genre the artist himself considered "the touchstone of painting." This sumptuous volume, first published to accompany a landmark exhibition at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore and at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, is the first major book to focus on this crucial aspect of Manet's work. Throughout his career, and especially later in his life, Manet devoted considerable energy to still lifes, producing oils, watercolors, and prints that unite exuberant personal expression with a flawless mastery of light and detail. With informative text, including an enlightening essay by Henri Loyrette, director of the Musee d'Orsay, Manet: The Still-Life Paintings features lush, full-page colorplates as well as full-bleed details of what some critics consider the finest examples of still-life painting ever executed.

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Review:

The French artist Édouard Manet was delighted when a client who purchased his painting of a bunch of asparagus paid more than the asking price. So he sent a special thank-you--a tiny image of a single pale spear of the prized vegetable. These and other lushly painted still lifes of flowers, fruits, and other foodstuffs, isolated or in groups, form one of the most beguiling aspects of Manet's output from the 1860s through the early '80s. Manet: The Still-Life Paintings, the catalog for the exhibition at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland, through April 22, 2001, serves as a pleasant introduction to the intimate late work of the great 19th-century realist. With 106 color reproductions, including close-up details of brushwork, the modestly scaled volume makes for a satisfying browse. The most deliciously unexpected treats are the luminous watercolors of fruit, nuts, or flowers that Manet interwove with his personal correspondence.

Earlier in Manet's career, still-life images played a supporting role in figure paintings. Author George Mauner, professor emeritus of art history at Pennsylvania State University, guides the reader to observe such details as the cherry falling in midair in Young Man w ith Cherries. This fascination with instantaneous effects would culminate 11 years later in the smoking rifles of the Mexican troops in The Execution of Emperor Maximilian. Manet, of course, was well aware of the tradition of still life as an invocation of the senses and as a reminder of the fleeting nature of sensual pleasure (and life itself). Mauner explains how this art-historical knowledge offers clues to some of the artist's more enigmatic paintings. The quote-heavy, name-dropping style of fellow essayist Henri Loyrette seems less attuned to a general reader's interests. But the book's most grievous sin is one of omission: the failure to include even the briefest biographical outline of Manet's life and work. --Cathy Curtis

About the Author:

George Mauner is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History at Pennsylvania State University and an authority on 19th-century art.

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