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Lot 15: Edouard Manet (1832-1883)

Impressionist and Modern Art - Evening Sale

by Christie's

May 4, 2005

New York, NY, USA

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Description: Polichinelle
signed 'Manet' (lower left)
oil on canvas
19 3/4 x 12 5/8 in. (50 x 32 cm.)
Painted in 1873

Notes: Polichinelle is a classic example of Manet's full-length portraits of actors and performers, a genre that fascinated the painter throughout his career. Manet made approximately a dozen works of this kind, including some of his most famous and important portraits, such as Lola de Valence (Rouart and Wildenstein no. 53), Le fifre (R. and W. 113), Le matador saluant (R. and W. 111), and L'actor tragique (R. and W. 106). Like other works in the group, the present picture shows the performer striking a characteristic pose with theatrical flourish, and yet seemingly isolated against a neutral or ambiguous background. Typically, Manet used the contrast of theatricality and isolation to create a mood of ironic poignancy. This is certainly true in the present painting, whose air of tender poetry is in keeping with the traditional view of Polichinelle. Indeed, the most important model for Polichinelle may have been Watteau's haunting picture of Gilles, a work which had been exhibited for the first time in 1860, and which entered the Louvre in 1869. In its sympathetic and touching portrayal of a humorous figure, Manet's image may also recall Velasquez's paintings of court jesters--paintings that Manet deeply loved. The brushwork of Polichinelle is extremely free, and shows Manet's debt not only to Velasquez, but also to Hals, another painter he admired and imitated. In 1873 Manet also painted Le bon bock (R. and W. 186), a work directly inspired by Hals. Of Manet's series of portraits of performers, Polichinelle is one of only two works still in private hands; all other examples of this group are in major museums.

Polichinelle was a figure of exceptional interest for the painter, and in 1873 and 1874 was at the center of Manet's art. During this period, in addition to the present picture, Manet made three other works of the character: a loose, preparatory sketch for the painting in which the figure appears in a more awkward pose; a watercolor exhibited at the Salon of 1874 (R. and W. 212); and a seven-color lithograph based on the watercolor (fig. 1). Polichinelle also appears at the left in the artist's celebrated Le bal de l'opéra from 1873-1874 (R. and W. 216; fig. 2). Also remarkable is Polichinelle's presence in the second frontispiece of the 1862 portfolio of Manet's etchings. On this basis, it has been suggested that Manet even identified with the character. For example, discussing the print, Jean C. Harris has stated: "It [Polichinelle] also seems a sort of self-portrait; the artist sees himself in the guise of a performer, an entertainer of the common man. Here Manet indicates his scorn for the [academic] 'peintre d'histoire'" (J.C. Harris, Edouard Manet, The Graphic Work, San Francisco, 1990, p. 132).

The present work was seen in Manet's studio in December 1873 by Léon Duchemin, who mentioned it in an article he published under the pseudonym Fervacques in Le Figaro:

"On the walls hang some of the painter's works. Firstly, the famous Déjeuner sur l'herbe rejected by the jury who, foolishly, have failed to understand that it showed, not a nude woman, but a woman undressed, which is something different. Then, paintings exhibited at different period: La leçon de musique, Le balcon, La belle Olympia...Then, a Marine, a sketch of two women seated in open fields, with a nearby village, a portrait of a woman and an exquisite Polichinelle, in a very jaunty pose.

While we were admiring this painting, so viciously attacked and yet so full of talent, Manet painted a watercolor of another Polichinelle, who poses in the middle of the studio, dressed in his charming and traditional costume. It is enlivened with a delicate, colorful and spiritual touch, different from the usual manner of the painter" (quoted in op. cit., vol. I, p. 18).

This extraordinary description is rich with important early information regarding the picture; for example, that Polichinelle's costume was regarded as "charming and traditional," and that in 1873 the painting was already considered "exquisite...and full of talent," and yet, like other early works by Manet, had been "viciously attacked."

The first edition of the lithograph was to be sent to the 8,000 subscribers of the republican newspaper Le Temps, but the print was supressed by the authorities; at least 1,500 impressions were destroyed, and the stones were confiscated by the police. The reason for the suppression is a matter of speculation. Theodore Reff has suggested that the figure of Polichinelle bears a striking resemblance to Maréchal MacMahon, the reactionary general who had led the repression of the Paris Commune in 1871 and was elected President of the Republic in May 1873 (T. Reff, Manet and Modern Paris, Chicago and London, p. 124). "His stance is indeed that of a general inspecting his troops," Reff writes, "and the bat he holds behind his back may allude to 'Maréchal Baton,' MacMahon's nickname, just as the bicorned hat he wears en bataillon may have Napoleonic connotation." Reff also notes that the figure may be based on Meissonier's Polichinelle, exhibited in 1860 and widely circulated as an etching. That Manet served under the reactionary painter in the Franco-Prussian War may add a note of personal irony to this commentary about republicanism and the forces of reaction in politics and culture.

The political reading of the theme, however, has been repeatedly questioned. Concerning the print and the incident over its seizure by the police, another author notes:

"If the lithograph was intended as a political caricature, the choice of the character Polichinelle was a puzzling one. Polichinelle was firmly established as a darling of the French people long before the time of this work, not only in art but as a sympathetic figure at costume balls, and even in political cartoons where he appears as a heroic figure or as Liberty itself in Phrygian cap. In the plays [Manet's friend] Duranty wrote for his puppet theater in the Tuileries in 1863 Polichinelle is the hero. His adversaries are always corrupt and cruel, and he always triumphs over them. Polichinelle came to be identified as a symbol of the crafty perseverance of the 'little' man and his triumph over authority (judge, policeman, doctor, hangman). Manet cannot have been unaware of these attributes, and it seems unlikely that he would have chosen Polichinelle for demeaning political satire" (E.M.-S., catalogue entry for Polchinelle, in Beatrice Farwell, The Cult of Images: Baudelaire and the 19th-Century Media Explosion, exh.cat., University of California at Santa Barbara Art Museum, 1977, p. 29).

Similarly, Marilyn Brown has taken issue with the political interpretation of Manet's Polichinelle imagery (M. Brown, "Manet, Nodier, and 'Polichinelle,'" Art Journal, Spring 1985, pp. 43-48). Noting that the 1874 Salon Jury did not find any objection to the watercolor of Polichinelle exhibited by Manet, Brown insists that there was nothing inherently political about the subject. Rather, she observes that Banville's inscription, with its reference to Polichinelle's drunkness, was at odds with the tone of moral sobriety maintained by the government. Brown observes that in the works of the French writer Nodier (circa 1780-1844), Polichinelle appears as an embodiment of modern society and natural man; she argues, therefore, that Manet likewise saw the figure as a kind of persona or alter ego, who represents progress in the face of outmoded convention.

According to Theodore Reff, Manet's friend Edmond André was the model who posed for Polichinelle.

(fig. 1) Edouard Manet, Polichinelle, color lithograph, 1874. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.Barcode 23669543

(fig. 2) Edouard Manet, Le bal de l'opéra, 1873. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.Barcode 23669536

Provenance: Jean-Baptiste Faure, Paris (1873); sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 29 April 1878, lot 41.
Mme. Martinet, Paris; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 8 June 1893, lot 46. Claude Lafontaine, Paris.
Auguste Pellerin, Paris; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 7 May 1926, lot 64.
Jos. Hessel, Paris.
The Auguste Pellerin Collection, Paris; sale, Christie's, New York, 8 November 1999, lot 136.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

Artist or Maker: Edouard Manet (1832-1883)

Exhibited: Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Exposition d'Oeuvres de Manet au Profit des "Amis du Luxembourg," April-May 1928.
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Manet, June-November 1996, p. 231, no. 44 (illustrated in color, p. 104).

Literature: Fervacques, "Visite à l'atelier de Manet," Le Figaro, 25 December 1873.
J. Péladan, "Le Procédé de Manet d'après l'Exposition faite à l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts," L'Artiste, February 1884, p. 114.
T. Duret, Histoire d'Edouard Manet et de son oeuvre par Théodore Duret, avec un catalogue des peintures et des pastels, Paris, 1902, no. 168.
J. Meier-Graefe, Edouard Manet, Munich, 1912, p. 218.
A. Tabarant, "Une Histoire inconnue du Polichinelle," Bulletin de la vie artistique, 1 September 1923, p. 366.
E. Moreau-Nélaton, Manet raconté par lui-même, Paris, 1926, vol. II, pp. 7-10, no. 174 (illustrated, fig. 176).
G. Bazin, "Manet et la tradition," L'Amour de l'Art, May 1932, p. 155 (illustrated).
P. Jamot and G. Wildenstein, Manet, Paris, 1932, vol. II, no. 216. L. Venturi, Les archives de l'impressionnisme, Paris, 1939, vol. II, p. 205.
A. Tabarant, Manet et ses oeuvres, Paris, 1947, pp. 234-235, no. 220.
M. Florisoone, Manet, Monaco, 1947, pp. XV and XXI.
G.H. Hamilton, Manet and His Critics, New Haven, 1954, pp. 176, 179-180 and 209.
B. Dorival, "Meissonier et Manet," Art de France, 1962, no. 2, pp. 222-226 (illustrated, p. 222).
P. Pool and S. Orienti, The Complete Paintings of Manet, New York, 1967, pp. 102-103, no. 188B (illustrated, p. 103).
D. Rouart and S. Orienti, Tout l'oeuvre peint d'Edouard Manet, Paris, 1970, no. 190b (illustrated).
D. Rouart and D. Wildenstein, Edouard Manet, Catalogue raisonné, Lausanne, 1975, vol. I, p. 178, no. 213 (illustrated, p. 179).
T. Reff, Manet and Modern Paris: One Hundred Paintings, Drawings, Prints, and Photographs by Manet and His Contemporaries, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1982, p. 124.

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