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Lot 15: Edouard Manet (1832-1883)

Property from the Hillman Family Collection

by Christie's

November 5, 2008

New York, NY, USA

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Description: Edouard Manet (1832-1883)
Fillette sur un banc
oil on canvas
28 7/8 x 23 7/8 in. (73.4 x 60.6 cm.)
Painted in 1880

Notes: Property from the Estate of Rita K. Hillman

Manet painted this vigorously spontaneous plein-air portrait of a young girl during the summer of 1880, during the final phase of his career, at a time when he was adapting his already considerable and notoriously idiosyncratic technique to reflect more closely the Impressionist practice of his friends Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. This painting is a revealing window into this culminating stage of Manet's painting, in which this complex and resolutely independent artist refreshed his vision and renewed his work, bringing it up to speed with most advanced developments of his day. His handling here also suggests that he was carrying these ideas even further forward, and indeed this painting offers a glimpse of the painter Manet that might have ultimately become--the masterly practitioner of an innovative late style that anticipates developments well into the next century--had not he died in 1883 at the age of only fifty-one.

Having seen exhibitions that often include works by Manet alongside those of Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, and Sisley, together with mid-period Cézanne and Degas, many viewers quite understandably make the assumption that Manet was a thorough-going, card-carrying Impressionist. He certainly possessed the particular distinction of having served as a ground-breaking precursor to this movement, and thereafter he exercised a powerful influence over the younger painters. Parisian critics and commentators assigned to Manet, very early on, the role of chef d'école of the new painting. Writing in 1876, Armand Silvestre referred to the artists of the nascent Impressionist movement as "the little group of intransigents of which [Manet] is considered the leader" (quoted in Manet, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1983). When Bazille, Cézanne, Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Sisley, Degas and others met frequently at the Café Guerbois and later the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes during the 1870s, the urbane, affable and trenchantly articulate Manet was usually the center of attention. During the trying initial decade of the 1870s, when the Impressionists sought to stake their maverick claim against the prevailing system of the official Salon, Manet was the battle-tested and undaunted veteran whose sterling example encouraged the troops to persist against all odds. His credentials as an independent had been well established and included a long list of scandalously provocative run-ins with the Salon, beginning in 1863, when his first masterwork, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Wildenstein, no. 67, Musée d'Orsay, Paris), was rejected and subsequently shown at the hastily arranged alternative Salon des Refusés.

Manet nevertheless deliberately avoided showing his work with the Impressionists in their group exhibitions, the first of which occurred in 1874, with six more taking place during the course of his lifetime. This is indeed surprising in light of the fact that, like the Impressionists, Manet was drawn to treating modern subjects drawn from the life and leisurely pursuits of the Parisian city-dweller. Like Baudelaire, he was the consummate flâneur, the man who savored the many attractions of the great boulevards, especially its stylish women. In contrast to the Impressionists, however, he had little interest in painting the landscape for its own sake, or even working out-of-doors. In keeping with his subjects, Manet preferred the sophisticated artificiality and intellectual challenge of composing his pictures in the studio. But most importantly, he wanted to succeed, like all painters of renown before him, within the time-honored system of the annual Salon, which the Impressionists now sought to bypass in their efforts to identify and sell directly to an increasingly sizable and prosperous bourgeois clientele. It became Manet's abiding personal agenda to obtain the recognition in the Salon that he felt was his due. He probably considered that participation in the Impressionist group shows would have been at the very least a distraction from this quest, and at worst would have embroiled him even further in crippling controversies, including some that were not of his own making.

Manet had already developed a style that was astutely selective in his use of painterly precedents, while being profoundly personal, innovative and original. His friend the painter Bazille declared, "Manet is as important to us as Cimabue or Giotto were to the Italians of the Quattrocento" (quoted in J. Renoir, Renoir, My Father, London, 1968, p. 106). Roger Fry observed, "He was a revolutionary in the sense that he refused to accept the pictorial conventions of his time. He went back to seventeenth century Spain for his inspiration. Instead of accepting the convention of light and shade falling upon objects from the side, he chose what seemed an impossibly difficult method of painting, that of representing them with light falling full upon them. This led to a very great change in the method of modeling and to a simplification of planes in his pictures which resulted in something closely akin to simple linear designs. He adopted, too, hitherto unknown oppositions of colour. In fact he endeavoured to get rid of chiaroscuro" (quoted in T. A. Gronberg, Manet: A Retrospective, New York, 1988, p. 270).

During the 1870s the Impressionists took Manet's path one step further by analyzing color as light reflected off objects in the full glare of daytime and in conjunction with a full range of atmospheric effects. They evolved an intuitively informal means of painting visual phenomena by which they discarded the old masterish practices of the academy. Manet was interested in their approach, as he was in anything that was new, different, and decidedly modern. During the summer of 1874 Manet worked alongside Monet and Renoir at Argenteuil. He painted Monet's wife and son in their garden (fig. 1 Wildenstein, no. 227; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and the unabashedly Impressionist Argenteuil (fig. 2 ; Wildenstein, no. 221; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tournai). Ross King has written that Manet formerly "believed paintings of la vie moderne were best realized in the studio, not under the open skies. Slowly, he had come to accept--largely on the evidence of Monet's canvases--that the fashionable and fugitive world of what Baudelaire called 'modernity' could be captured in situ. He had painted en plein air on previous occasions, most notably during his seaside vacations. But he seems to have come to the Argentuil basin in the summer of 1874 with the express aim of abandoning what he would call the 'false shadows' of the studio in favor of joining Monet in the 'true light' of the outdoors" (in The Judgment of Paris, New York, 2006, p. 359).

On those occasions that Monet painted the figure, it usually seemed but one de-personalized thing among others that stood revealed in the full light of the sun. On the other hand, as Beth Archer Brombert has pointed out, "In Manet's work the figure is of utmost importance Manet represented natural light as faithfully as paint can allow, but primarily as an environment for a psychological portrait, a relationship between figures or, even more original, between the subject and the artist. Nature is Manet's work is in the service of the human figure, which stands as the mediator between it and the viewer" (in Edouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat, Boston, 1996, p. 362).

Manet, nevertheless, was not about to abandon the comforts of his Paris studio for the mobile life of an outdoor painter, and he did not follow up the paintings he had done in Argenteuil that summer with other important Impressionist-leaning paintings until the end of the decade. He showed Argenteuil at the Salon of 1875; it was savaged in the press. Among some lonely few dissenters, the critic Jules-Antoine Castagnary stood up in behalf of the artist and protested: "Hasn't Manet deserved a medal after the many years he has exhibited at the Salon? He is the head of a school and exercises an indisputable influence on a certain group of artists. Due to this fact alone his place is secure in the history of contemporary art" (quoted in J. Rewald. The History of Impressionism, New York, 4th edition, 1973, p. 360). Perhaps this setback discouraged Manet from continuing to depict outdoor subjects in finished works.

While staying in the studio of the Swedish painter Johan-Georg Otto, Count Rosen, during 1878-1879, Manet came upon a setting that combined the convenience and comfort of a residential interior lit with full but controllable daylight, and at the same time contained elements of a natural, outdoor environment. The greenhouse garden or conservatory was becoming an increasingly popular feature in larger, well-to-do Paris homes. Otto's indoor garden became the setting for Manet's Dans le serre, 1879 (fig. 3; Wildenstein, no. 280), for which the painter's friends M. and Mme Jules Guillemet posed. Manet exhibited this painting in the Salon of 1879, and the finally his efforts seemed to meet with wider critical approval. Paul Alexis wrote, "Now, the legend that made of him a scruffy art student, a jokester who inveigled Paris, is far behind. Now, any number of art critics takes him seriously. One would have to be blind to deny it. Manet already has an entire school following him. Manet is a master in Latin, Manet et manebit ['he abides and will abide'--this became the artist's motto]" (quoted in B. A., Brombert, op. cit., p. 408). Manet sold Dans le serre, but for only 4,000 francs, far less than the prices that Alfred Stevens and James Tissot were getting for their conservatively rendered pictures of modern life, let alone the perennial favorites of the Salon, such as Bonnat, Cabanel and Meissonier.

Manet did not work outdoors extensively again until the late summer and fall of 1879, although unfortunately this development came as the result of the most inauspicious circumstances. During the summer of 1876 the artist's left foot continually hurt, and he thereafter began to experience intermittent stabbing pains in his legs, while sometimes finding it difficult to walk. He ascribed these ills to rheumatism or arthritis, which he had been told ran his family, but it appears that he was suffering from the onset of locomotor ataxia, the inability of his body to coordinate the muscle movements in walking. This condition and other symptoms Manet began to experience may be traced to syphilis, which the artist had probably contracted as a young man, as this disease--incurable at that time--began to attack the nervous system in his legs.

In September 1879 Manet followed the advice of his close friend Dr. Siredey, and entered a clinic in Bellevue, on the Seine near Paris, where hydrotherapy in the form of lengthy showers and baths was used to treat circulatory and rheumatic problems. Apart from his daily treatments and obligatory walks, Manet found time to work, and he painted a handful of canvases showing women in gardens, a pleasant subject that distracted him from the sometimes torturous rigors of his therapeutic routine. He began a portrait of Émilie Ambre, an opera singer who owned an estate near Bellevue. He depicted her costumed for the title role in Georges Bizet's Carmen (Wildenstein, no. 334; fig. 4).

Manet's initial treatment at Bellevue appears to have been beneficial, for he felt better when he left the clinic after a couple of months. He painted his fine portraits of Georges Clemenceau and Antonin Proust later that year and in early 1880 (Wildenstein, nos. 329-331). Manet's condition worsened considerably, however, during the spring of 1880, and he decided to return to the clinic. He wrote to his friend the poet Stéphane Mallarmé on 29 May: "I'm leaving for Bellevue tomorrow--and won't have seen you to say goodbye. I hope you are out of bed now and if I haven't been to see you, you know it's because I'm not allowed to climb stairs. Anyway, let's wish each other good health and good luck" (quoted in J. Wilson-Bareau, ed. Manet by Himself, New York, 1991, p. 247).

Manet and his wife Suzanne rented a small villa on one of Mme Ambre's properties, at 4 route des Gardes. The artist wrote again to Mallarmé on 19 June: "Bellevue and its excellent air are doing me good and I hope to improve after three or four months here. To tell the truth, I'd put up with anything to get my health back. The bad weather has so far prevented me from getting down to serious work and I'm looking forward impatiently to starting something substantial" (quoted in ibid., p. 248). He did not relish country living, but he realized that it was probably beneficial for him. He wrote on 5 July to poet Zacharie Astruc (the subject of a portrait, Wildenstein, no. 92): "Time is a great healer--and I am putting a good deal of trust in it. I'm living like a shellfish in the sun, where there is any, and as much as possible in the open air, but when all is said and done the countryside only has charms for those who are not obliged to stay there" (quoted in ibid., p. 250).

When Manet finally got down to work, he resumed treating the subjects of his previous stay, those attractive young women and girls who came to visit from Paris, whom he posed outdoors in the gardens of Bellevue. When he learned that Marguerite, the young daughter of the Guillemets, would soon visit, he wrote her in July, making a point of asking her to "Bring your needlework and the light-coloured summer dress you told me about, and if you have a pretty garden hat don't leave it behind" (quoted in ibid., p. 252). He painted her outdoors in the full glare of sunlight, so that her "garden hat" is the most visible part of her (Wildenstein, no. 347, fig. 5). He painted a superbly elegant portrait of Mme Gamby, who personified the sophisticated elegance of modern urban femininity, having alighted like a strangely dark angel in the artist's garden (Wildenstein, no. 338, fig. 6).

Antonin Proust recalled an incident during the course of the summer in which he and Manet, while on a walk together, encountered on their path a local young girl who was selling flowers. Manet told him, "You can't imagine how infuriating it is to be in this state. If I were well, I'd have raced home to fetch my paintbox. How strange the contrast between the awkwardness of a child and the self-assurance of a young girl. But not to have the strength to convey it now. Still, it's a vision that has made me forget my illness for a moment. That's something" (quoted in ibid., p. 247).

Not long afterwards, Manet had his opportunity to paint a similarly appealing vision of youthful innocence, when Mme Ambre, whose Carmen portrait Manet would complete later that summer, introduced the painter to the daughter of her friend Paul Vayson de Pradenne. Manet posed the young girl on a bench in Mme Ambre's garden; the result is the lively and sensitive portrait seen here. It was very likely painted premier coup in a single sitting, together with a close-up view of the girl's face (Wildenstein, no. 336; The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania). In both paintings Mlle Payson wears a broad-brimmed straw summer hat, and her dress has a broad sailor's collar, decorated at the neck with a large bow.

Manet's treatment of his charming subject is appropriately casual and direct. Instead of the broad and flat areas of color which he normally employed in his studio works, in which he modeled forms with calculated subtlety and deliberate economy, he has here described form entirely by means of abrupt, abbreviated and unblended strokes of his brush. An instantaneous and transient semblance of the girl's figure appears to coalesce from this atomized welter of marks, which swirl like a vortex around the central focal point of her face. This is not the typically cursive Impressionist tache, as seen in the artist's outdoor study of Marguerite Guillemet (fig. 5), which through regular repetition becomes a constructive pictorial technique that imparts definition to objects seen in sunlight. The technique employed here actually amounts to Manet's willfully audacious deconstruction of his own studio style, in which he has broken down his accustomed flat areas of color into much smaller and disconnected spots, ribbons and patches of fluid paint, in some places allowing the bare canvas to show through, which becomes a unifying element in the composition.

These animated stabs and slashes of the brush appear to manifest a freely intuitive rather than any sort of calculated and analytical approach to painting. The energetic and helter-skelter aspect of this canvas suggests that Manet is celebrating the very act of painting as a personally liberating event, in which the artist works as if he were hardwired directly from eye to hand, proceeding with neither premeditation nor the least hesitation. All manner of academic practice, and this great painter's own sophisticated studio artifice, has been effectively thrown out the window, and disappearing with it is virtually all the coherence of pictorial convention to which his less adventurous contemporaries were accustomed. Manet merely implies the presence of physicality, he is actually painting appearance as purely retinal phenomena, in which the girl's figure, her clothes, the wooden slats of a bench and the backdrop of leafy foliage become pulsating flashes of color as rendered in paint. In Manet's hand oil colors may suggest form and presence, but in works of this kind, it is astonishing how completely and guiltlessly the artist has disembodied paint from the very things it is meant to describe.

This is an entirely new and audaciously modern way of painting. Monet had done this with the landscape, where the artist's pigments became materia analogous to the earth forms he was rendering. To apply this approach to the figure, especially when depicting the innocence of a young girl, was to the eyes of Manet's contemporaries an unaccountably brutal and inexcusable act of pictorial violence. In works of this kind Manet's approach is closest to that of Berthe Morisot, his close friend and since 1874 the wife of his brother. Mallarmé described Morisot as "the lady who painted with fury and nonchalance" (quoted in B. E. White, Impressionists Side by Side, New York, 1996, p. 171). Critics accused both artists of painting in an incoherent and unfinished manner, in which they left their subjects in an "embryonic" state.

It would be a while before other artists caught up with the inward spirit of Manet's late style even when they learned to practice the look of its "sketch-like" appearance. Indeed, this manner looks no less fresh or less spontaneous today, more than a century later, in a manner that today we would still judge to be very informal and improvisational. This is, moreover, an absolutely compelling approach to painting for the one reason that other artists might not easily share, for they might yet avoid confronting the one overriding concern that must have driven Manet's thoughts at this critical point in his final years, a dawning and terrifying presentiment of a likely and untimely demise.

Manet might try to put off these troubling intimations by painting the face of an innocent young girl, who is by contrast only nearing the verge of her adult life, and is the very picture of health and joy. Yet in the way he handles his paint, the great Manet seems unable to dissociate himself from his sense of fate, which invests this gentle painting with a latent irony, but more profoundly, it lends it a quiet poignancy, as it reflects a desperate longing to catch life on the fly.

Manet and his wife left Bellevue at end of October. The artist wrote to Marthe Hoschedé: "the stay has done me so much good I'm sorry to be going back to town." (quoted in J. Wilson-Bareau, op. cit, p. 257) Of the 33 canvases that Manet completed that year, just over half had been done in Bellevue. The following year he painted Le Printemps (Wildenstein, no. 372; fig. 7) and began work on his final masterwork, Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère (Wildenstein, no. 388; Courtould Institute, London). Peter Schjeldahl has written:

"In the revolutionary formation of modern painting, [Manet] was, by general agreement, first among equals--George Washington at the easel. In art history, Manet's style is a revolving door between a classical past and a chaotic future that is still with us. Anyone who advances a theory about modern art must have serviceable ideas about Manet. But when one really looks at his paintings, ideas vanish. Beauty, poignancy, and a sort of happy shock prevail. What is Manet's essential quality? I think it's innocence. His friend the poet Stéphane Mallarmé hazarded as much: Manet's eye is 'the eye of generations of city-bred childhoods.' The ardor of Manet's work is as limpid as the gaze of an interested child" (in "Edouard Manet," Let's See: Writings on Art from the New Yorker, New York, 2008, pp. 98).



(fig. 1) Edouard Manet, La famille Monet au jardin, 1874. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. BARCODE 24411295

(fig. 2) Edouard Manet, Argenteuil, 1874. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tournai. BARCODE 24411288

(fig. 3) Edouard Manet, Dans le serre, 1879. Staatliche Museen Preussicher Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie, Berlin. BARCODE 24411271

(fig. 4) Edouard Manet, Émilie Ambre dans le rôle de Carmen, 1879-1880. Philadelphia Museum of Art. BARCODE 24411257

(fig. 5) Edouard Manet, Un coin de jardin de Bellevue, 1880. Stiftung Sammlung E.G. Bührle, Zürich.BARCODE 2441264

(fig. 6) Edouard Manet, La Promenade, 1880. Sold, Christie's New York, 15 November 1983, lot 17. BARCODE 24411301

(fig. 7) Edouard Manet, Le Printemps, 1881. Private collection. BARCODE 2600282

Provenance: Estate of the artist; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 4-5 February 1884, lot 24 (titled Enfant sur un banc).
Paul Vayson de Pradenne, Paris (acquired at the above sale).
Georges Bernheim, Paris (by 1931).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York.
Mrs. Huddleston Rogers, New York (1942).
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York (1944).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 24 January 1950.

Exhibited: Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Quelques Oeuvres importantes de Corot à Van Gogh, 1934, no. 17.
Detroit, Society of Arts and Crafts, French Nineteenth-Century Paintings, 1935, no. 8.
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Boudin to Cézanne, 1938, no. 10. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Development of Impressionism, January-February 1940, no. 30.
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Eighteenth-and-Nineteenth-Century French Paintings, 1940.
Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, French Painters of the Ninteenth Century, 1942.
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, One-Hundred and Fortieth Anniversary Exhibition, 1943, no. 9 (illustrated).
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Six Nineteenth-Century French Artists, March-April 1946, no. 2.
New York, Durand-Ruel Galleries, Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century French Paintings, Twentieth-Century American Paintings, III, 1948 (illustrated in color, pl. 1).
The Art Instititue of Chicago, Treasures of Chicago Collectors, April-May 1961.
New York, The Metropolitain Museum of Art, Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition, Summer 1963, p. 9, no. 93.
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Olympia's Progeny, for the Benefit of the Association for Mentally Ill Children, October-November 1965, no. 33.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Summer Loan Exhibition: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture from Private Collections, Summer 1966, p. 8, no. 84.
Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, Édouard Manet, November 1966-February 1967, pp. 165-167, no. 153 (illustrated, p. 166).
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc., One Hundred Years of Impressionism: A Tribute to Durand-Ruel, for the Benefit of the New York University Art Collection, April-May 1970, no. 47 (illustrated). New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Summer Loan Exhibition: Paintings from New York Collections. Collection of Mrs. Alex Hillman and the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, July-November 1971, p. 1, no. 5.

Literature: T. Duret, Histoire, d'Édouard Manet et de son oeuvre, Paris, 1902 and 1919, no. 269.
J. Meier-Graefe, Édouard Manet, Munich, 1912, p. 320.
E. Moreau-Nélaton, Manet raconté par lui-même, Paris, 1926, no. 272.
A. Tabarant, Manet: Histoire catalographique, Paris, 1931, no. 324. P. Jamot and G. Wildenstein, Manet, Paris, 1932, vol. I, p. 167, no. 384 (illustrated, vol. II, p. 35, fig. 88).
R. Rey, Manet, Paris, 1938, p. 86 (illustrated).
E.A. Jewell, French Impressionists, New York, 1944, p. 71 (illustrated).
A. Tabarant, Manet et son oeuvres, Paris, 1947, p. 385, no. 349.
H.L.F., "Alex L. Hillman: Courbet to Dubuffet," in Art News, October, 1959, vol. 58, p. 30, no. 3 (illustrated).
J. Canaday, "Olympia's Progeny," in New York Times, 31 October 1965, p. X 27 (illustrated).
P. Pool and S. Orienti, The Complete Paintings of Édouard Manet, New York, 1967, p. 113, no. 311A (illustrated).
M. Bodelsen, "Early Impressionist Sales, 1874-1894," in Burlington Magazine, June 1968, p. 343, no. 24.
D. Rouart and D. Wildenstein, Edouard Manet: Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1975, vol. I, p. 258, no. 335 (illustrated, p. 259).
S. Orienti, Tout Manet, 1873-1883, Paris, 1981, pp. 49-50, no. 308a (illustrated).
E. Braun, Manet to Matisse: The Hillman Family Collection, Seattle and London, 1994, p. 98, no. 28 (illustrated in color, p. 99; illustrated in color again, p. 12).

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