The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism

The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism

Ross King

Language: English

Pages: 464

ISBN: 0802715168

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


While the Civil War raged in America, another revolution took shape across the Atlantic, in the studios of Paris: The artists who would make Impressionism the most popular art form in history were showing their first paintings amidst scorn and derision from the French artistic establishment. Indeed, no artistic movement has ever been quite so controversial. The drama of its birth, played out on canvas and against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, would at times resemble a battlefield; and as Ross King reveals, it would reorder both history and culture, and resonate around the world.

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figure—reposing on the ground. On the few occasions when he required a nude model, Manet had turned to his mistress, Suzanne Leenhoff. In about i860 she had posed for a work called Nymph and Satyr, which featured her sitting beside a woodland stream, her hair unfastened and her clothing discarded beside her.2 For Le Bain (plate 5B), however, Manet decided to use a different model, a nineteen-yearold redhead named Victorine Meurent. The daughter of an engraver, Victorine came from a working-class

uncomplaining and not given to idle chitchat.11 Arriving at the studio, she would have been carefully positioned into the prescribed stance—that of a young woman reclining on the grass after having taken her bath in the river. Seated on the floor with her right leg retracted and her right elbow bent and supported by one knee, she would cup her chin with her right hand and turn her head to the right to gaze at Manet as he stood be- M A D E M O I S E L L E V. 39 hind his easel. This pose was

come Courbet's way at the Salon of 1849 w i t n After Dinner at Ornans, an atmospheric interior scene that won him a handful of good reviews, a Salon medal, and a feast in his honor in his hometown. But the barbed comment of one reviewer—"No one could drag art into the gutter Gustave Courbet (Nadar) 84 THE J U D G M E N T OF P A R I S with greater technical virtuosity"4—typified the reluctant admiration that many people felt for the talented but undisciplined Courbet, who, in works such as A

pasty skin, was widely regarded to have been the morally precarious fille de joie inside the Palais des Champs-Elysées. Victorine may well have been intended by Manet to represent a streetwalker from the Rue Bréda—but, seated naked beside her picnic basket, she was regarded by the public more as a source of mirth than of danger. Disquiet over Manet's painting was expressed, instead, over the fact that Victorine's companions were dressed, as Hamerton distastefully observed, in "horrible modern

find favor with the jury) as well as to cast his vote against Manet. Meissonier undoubtedly wished to see his son's painting accepted by the jury, but he was surely less appalled than Breton or Baudry by Manet's efforts. He was more likely to have taken the side of his old friend Daubigny, the one juror exempted by Zola from any blame for the débâcle. "He behaved as an artist and a man of heart," Zola proclaimed m L'Événement. "He alone fought against certain of his colleagues, in the name of

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