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Psychiatrys Global Challenge

By Regina Howard,2014-06-17 22:01
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Psychiatrys Global Challenge

    Manet: A Radicalized Female Imagery

    By: Eunice Lipton

    1. Manet was first called an iconoclast by his contemporaries; history has more

    than agreed. In fact, on that high road to what is popularly called modernism, Manet‟s

    name is written first. He earned this position almost entirely on the basis of his formal

    innovations. Who is unfamiliar with the Manet liturgy which endlessly marches out

    5 the flatness, tonalism, foreshortened shadows, and peculiar perspective of his painting?

    While all of these are undeniable attributes of his work, they constitute only a partial

    inventory of his vision; they in no way evoke the extraordinary scope and power of

    his genius. For Manet was essentially a realist whose unique vision lay as much in the

    novelty and acuteness of his contemporary social imagery as it did in his formal

    10 discoveries.

    2. Manet critics have been so indoctrinated by a formalist view of modern art

    history a view which sees a relentless development from Manet to the present in

    terms of abstract formal components that inquiry into the social, political and

    psychological implications of his imagery has until recently been anathema. There are

    15 some outstanding exceptions. Linda Nochlin and Theodore Reff and N.P. Sandblad

    have addressed themselves to more broadly based, humanistic questions. I would like

    to extend that inquiry with an analysis of Manet‟s attitude toward women.

    3. Manet was an idiosyncratic realist. With the Impressionists in the 1870‟s and

    „80‟s, he painted the milieu and mores of his own bourgeois life style. The

    20 revolutionary position that he and the Impressionists shared was their adoption, on a

    large scale, of such bourgeois subjects as picnics, boating, concerts, etc. Where they

    differed was in their approach to social etiquette in that ambiance. Whereas the

    Impressionists, with the exception of Degas, painted a social imagery dictated by

    stereotypic social behavior, Manet never did. Renoir, or Monet early in his career,

    25 painted the friendly social encounters of daily life, but Manet in the same context

    reversed the expected protocol. For example, Manet would paint a couple or a mother

    and child, but he denied them their stereotyped exchanges: the couple ignored each

    other, the mother, instead of being loving, behaved selfishly. He did this in the interest

    of portraying the unritualized and uncommemorated habits of daily life, not as they

    30 were brushed up and shaken out for company or for a work of art, but as they

    persistently and prosaically existed.

    4. The dynamic of Manet‟s special brand of realism was to start with a time-

    honored theme, or convention, them emphatically withhold its most characteristic trait.

    On one hand, he upheld the element of tradition, crucial to the dynamic of his realism.

    35 On the other hand he unmasked it as the anachronistic disguise, or delimiting social

    ritual that he saw it to be. The more stringent the etiquette of the original convention,

    the more disconcerting and radicalized Manet‟s images finally appear. Since there are

    no conventions more entrenched in the history of art and social conduct than those

    Manet: Female Imagery / 2

    relating to women, it is in his images of women that Manet‟s irreverent habit of mind

    40 and peculiar realism are clearest cut. If one analyzes his images of women and

    compared them to contemporary images both avant-garde and academic one will

    discover not only the dynamics of his realism but his radical perception of the model

    French woman as well.

    5. Manet painted women in a variety of social contexts: the isolated portrait, the

    45 reclining nude, the nude with other figures, man and woman, woman and child. His

    version of the reclining nude, of course, exists as a classic of its kind. The convention

    associated with that figure, whether the image was Venus or some anonymous

    odalisque, always emphasized female sensuality and tacitly implied availability.

    Manet‟s Olympia of 1863 does neither. She is not voluptuous in a traditional sense nor

    50 is she served up to the viewer. Quite the contrary. She is aloof, self-contained and

    almost disdainful; she faces her visitor and stares him down. One braceleted hand

    plays with a luxuriant shawl while the other assertively rests on her thigh. A red

    hothouse orchid in her hair and a black velvet ribbon around her throat flaunt, rather

    than offer, her nakedness. Olympia is a contemporary, nonidealized women posing as

    55 Venus. Perhaps it is this denial of tradition which partially explains the furor triggered

    by the painting. For, we are told that “Sticks and umbrellas were brandished in [her]

    face,” and that she was “a degraded model picked up I know not where.”

    6. Theodore Reff in “The Meaning of Manet‟s Olympia” in part attributes the

    contemporary emotional resonance of the painting to a literary source, Dumas fils‟

    60 novel, La Dame aux Camélias, 1848. (In this popular novel and play, a heartless

    courtesan is named Olympia.) Reff interprets Olympia as an image of a contemporary

    women living on the fringes of respectable society, a member of the demi-monde of

    the second Empire. Complete with lascivious cat and exotic black maid, she certainly

    was an inflammatory image to present to the Parisian public.

    65 7. Reff‟s interpretation is provocative and convincing. His argument, however, can

    be taken further, for his analysis omits the crucial ingredient of irony in Manet‟s

    sensibility. Considering some of Manet‟s other paintings of the time with their

    tongue-in-cheek eclecticism and disregard for propriety, it is highly unlikely that

    Olympia was primarily conceived of as a straightforward depiction of a courtesan. For

    70 example, Mademoiselle Victorine in the Costume of an Espada (Metropolitan

    Museum of Art, New York, 1962) depicts a woman, painted in the style of Velasquez,

    impersonating one of the most machismo-type males imaginable; Le Déjeuner sur

    l’herbe, 1863) is a risqué contemporary picnic painted with the imagery of Raphael

    and Giorgione in mind. Just as Manet was mocking stereotypes of one kind or another

    75 in the above two paintings, he was doing the same in Olympia. Her very posture as

    Venus heightens the irony of the rejected scenario. Olympia arrogantly confronts and

    gives the lie to every Venus, odalisque and courtesan figure ever painted. She

    undermines tradition and stares out at history as the self-contained model Victorine

    Meurend posing as a classic nude. Manet‟s undermining, his subversion, of an

    Manet: Female Imagery / 3 80 ennobled and defined convention of femininity was surely a major, if unconscious

    source of spectator outrage in 1865.

    8. Manet‟s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe is as unrelenting in its matter-of-fact realism

    and irreverence toward ritualized responses. Despite the blatantly provocative state of

    dress and undress in the painting, the female nude is completely uninvolved with any

    85 erotic program. She is aloof and detached from the two clothed men seated nearby.

    This is particularly disconcerting because artistic and social conventions dictate other

    behavior. As John Berger, the British critic, has said in The Listener (June 20, 1972):

    “A woman in the culture of privileged Europeans is first and foremost a sight to be

    looked at … Her nakedness is not an expression of her own active feelings: it is a sign

    90 of her submission.” Manet‟s woman is no more an object to be looked at than she is a

    creature of submission. These are precisely the conventions she rejects. She in no way

    engaged in the erotic fête champêtre of which she is apparently a member; stark naked,

    she nonetheless refuses the erotic script. She remains her own woman and

    inaccessible. She is the model Victorine Meurend posing with other models for a

    95 painting. Once again, conventional and expected behavior is denied in the interest of a

    prosaic and demythicized realism. The reality in this painting is an event in the artist‟s

    studio. Again discomfort is produced by the simultaneous assertion and betrayal of

    stereotypes.

    9. Just as the schematic outdoor backdrop belies a natural setting, so the

    100 indifference of the nude woman amidst clothed men undermines the sexual

    expectancies inherent in the theme. When Gerome painted The Slave Market (Clark

    Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass, c. 1867), he adhered to that sexual etiquette

    absolutely. A young woman, who is apparently having her teeth examined, has been

    totally undressed for the occasion. She stands titillatingly close to a densely wrapped

    105 Arab who is exploring her mouth; she submits to him and visually to us.

    10. Even when approaching the revered subject of motherhood, Manet‟s position

    was outrageous and unconventional. The subject, almost as sacred as the Virgin and

    Christ child themselves, was a favorite among his contemporaries. The convention is

    well known: mothers are always loving and attentive. In the Gare St. Lazare (1873),

    110 exhibited in the Salon of 1874, Manet banished the loving, patient and attentive

    thmother the secularized Virgin of the 19 century. Instead, he painted a woman and

    her child who, while physically close, are psychically distant. Each is located in her

    own time and space. The mother, distracted from her book for a moment, looks up at

    us, the passerby, or Manet; the child is turned away. The mother is alert, intelligent,

    115 inquiring; the child, mannequinlike. The shared moments and familial warmth

    demanded by mother-child conventions have vanished. A moment of ungilded realism

    confronts the viewer instead. Mothers, in fact, have their own moments, times when

    they are self-involved and emotionally detached from their children. The mother in

    Manet‟s painting appears to be an able and responsible middle class French woman, a

    120 person who in fact, would not continually be subsumed in her child‟s world. What is

    Manet: Female Imagery / 4

    staggering is that Manet dared to paint a woman who so openly challenged a sacred

    social stereotype. Compared to contemporary images, Manet‟s painting is positively

    irreverent. (For example, A. Jourdan‟s A Mother, Salon, 1872, Renoir‟s Mother and

    Children, Frick Collection, 1874-76, and Leon Bonnat‟s First Steps, Salon, 1874). 125 11. Manet is his most unorthodox and provocative, however, when painting couples.

    Romantic convention has dictated that men and women in close proximity pay

    attention to each other and more specifically that the woman provide erotic

    possibilities; she pauses, she hesitates nervously, she teases. A convention which

    usually follows these rules in art is the serenade; Titian‟s Venus with a Lute Player 130 and Watteau‟s La Gamme d’Amour may serve as examples. Manet‟s The Music

    Lesson (1870) could not be further from the required convivial intercourse. The

    earmarks of a tryst are present guitar, couch, man and woman but none of the

    expected erotic high. A stolidly serious, bourgeois couple sit stiffly side by side, each

    isolated in his or her own psychic ambiance. Each is autonomous. The artistic

    135 convention, echoing middle-class fantasies, demands interaction, but reaction need

    not comply. Indeed, the contemporary bourgeois sense of propriety a brand of

    French Victorianism demanded a coolness which conflicted with the fantasy. The

    real moment between men and women was frequently an awkward one, which is

    exactly what Manet has captured in his painting. For he was particularly drawn to

    140 intervals of personal abstraction, ennui, and indifference. People do retreat into their

    own thoughts and spaces even when they are intimate. It is a mark of his good

    judgment that he does not overstate the candor with which he examines these

    situations.

    12. A more traditional image of seduction was painted by Manet‟s contemporary, M.

    145 Ballavoine. In The Interrupted Séance (1880), Ballavoine painted a woman who was

    apparently ready and eager for pleasure. Judging from her disarray and forlorn

    expression, however, her lover has rushed off in the middle of it. Tokens of his

    masculinity and the projected seduction the palette and the lute remain behind on

    the bed. In a somewhat disguised form, Ballavoine‟s Séance is nonetheless close to 150 such typical serenades as Watteau‟s La Gamme d’Amour in London‟s National

    Gallery.

    13. The woman in Manet‟s The Music Lesson is particularly unsettling because

    traditional etiquette requires that she be friendly and subordinate. Contemporary

    images of women in similar situations always show her charming and engaged, if not

    155 dependent. (See Wrencker‟s Under the Leaves, Salon 1874, and Renoir‟s Alfred Sisley

    and His Wife, Cologne, 1868.) Only Manet‟s couple is austere, and disengaged. It is

    not surprising that the man in Manet‟s painting is depicted as choosing to be frozen or

    reflective (men have always had the prerogative to choose action or not). That the

    woman also assumes that option is amazing. She refuses to be a cliché of femininity

    160 and in so doing she rejects some of society‟s most cherished and protected

    conventions.

    Manet: Female Imagery / 5

    14. Manet chose to paint psychic and social distances between people. But as usual

    he deliberately started with the traditional image of a loving couple and then

    deconventionalized it in the interest of a contemporary, nonstereotypic reality. His

    165 painting Argenteuil (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tournai, 1874) captures just such a mood

    again. An uncommunicative couple sit woodenly together. She is plainly the more

    reluctant of the two. The myth would have her dependent, tentative, affectionate like

    Mme. Sisley in Renoir‟s Alfred Sisley and His Wife. She refuses.

    15. The most psychologically iconoclastic of these images is In the Conservatory

    170 (1879). The woman is positively recalcitrant. Far from being demure, retiring or

    attentive, she is extraordinarily self-confident and self-engrossed. Where has one ever

    seen a woman own the space in which she sits as this woman does? She neither folds

    her hands in her lap nor feigns some other retiring gesture; she sits nonchalantly yet

    imperiously, one arm draped over the top of the bench, the other calmly but assuredly

    175 holding (one is tempted to say, wielding) a parasol. She is self-possessed, lost in

    thought. There is not a hint of flirtation anywhere. In fact, during the moment of the

    painting, the woman ignores her companion, who, it turns out, is her husband.

    16. Manet‟s images of courtship and love, robbed as they are of their mythic

    scaffolding, are bold indeed. His women are seen as strong, autonomous beings,

    180 firmly saying no to centuries of conventional behavior. They are not available,

    seductive, good-tempered, pleasant, helpful or patient. In no way do they resemble

    updated versions of Venus, Flora, Mary or Salome. Manet‟s women are only people.

    For example, in the Conservatory, he painted Monsieur and Madame Guillemet who

    together ran the most fashionable clothing shop in Paris. Mme. Guillemet does not

    185 look helpless, coy, idle or dependent, simply because Manet did not so see her.

    17. Manet‟s view of women was consistent with the overall development of the

    realistic program of his art. In the 1860‟s his realism played itself off between specific

    art-historical sources. The two works of 1863, Olympia and the Déjeuner, used older

    artists‟ libretti, transforming their declared fictions into images of studio events.

    190 Manet‟s realism of the 1870‟s and ‟80‟s, however, grew out of his day-to-day

    experience. Undoubtedly the Franco-Prussian War and the even more bloody

    Commune of 1871 contributed to his belief that the time of Venuses, however

    ironically portrayed, had passed. He began to turn for his reference point to a strictly

    bourgeois version of reality, the day-to-day experience of the leisured upper middle

    195 class.

    18. The women in his paintings of the ‟70‟s and ‟80‟s were bourgeois women of the

    Third Republic whom he clearly appreciated as people. Some he knew intimately,

    others he observed on the boulevards and in the cafés. With more and more frequency

    thin the 19 century, middle-class women shed the anonymity and clichés of past

    200 tradition. They were more present in the world, more visible as doers. That was

    especially clear in Paris where women could be seen at the cafés, shopping, working

    Manet: Female Imagery / 6

    in shops, etc. The fact that women worked outside the home, in clear view, had to

    alter the idealized image of woman that demanded fragility and dependency.

    19. The middle-class woman had become a more present and potent force during

    205 the century, in part because of the rising number of the petite bourgeoisie. Where she

    lacked power in public affairs, she had tremendous power at home in domestic affairs,

    and in fact was emerging as a major client-consumer. The appearance at the end of the

    century of large department stores like Bon Marché (1876) and Magasin Printemps

    (1889) attest to the fact. The Parisian bourgeoise was not merely an adornment, a

    210 luscious cornucopia, or a doll. She was also obstinate, courageous and shrewd like her

    husband, and that is the woman Manet painted.

    20. Other painters were not as observant. Neither avant-garde nor academic artists

    challenged the stereotypic images of women. They painted the reality endorsed by

    convention. It is not surprising that academic artists defended these ideals, but one

    215 tends to expect more of an avant-garde artist which is a mistake. In fact, it is often

    uncharacteristic of avant-garde artists to challenge social or political conventions in

    their art, for the concept “avant-garde” has traditionally been limited to formal and

    stylistic considerations. That artists like Monet, Renoir and Pissarro can be absolutely

    conservative in their depiction of social exchanges and yet be called radical (“avant-

    220 garde”) by their times and history, indicates that the concept avant-garde has been

    ideologically limited and needs re-evaluating.

    21. Manet was the first to become avant-garde in both senses of the term. That he

    radicalized female imagery was only, to be sure, one of the many effects of his

    socially conscious vision. Nevertheless, it was an outstanding gauge of the irony, wit,

    225 and bravery of his mind which submitted neither to social nor stylistic etiquettes.

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