Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass

Why was Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass considered shocking if Ingres’ Jupiter and Thetis was not?  What aspects of both form and content in the Manet painting were counter to traditions of the academic style?

The painting by Manet was considered shocking in it’s time for a variety of reasons. Certain aspects of this painting were scrutinized as well, so, Manet and his work, Luncheon  on the Grass seems to have failed in the eyes of critics.

Though, historians today are still befuddled by his intentions and as to the meaning behind the painting, contemporary thought (his peers) took it as a piece of work making fun of Titian and Raphael. Supposedly, what Manet said of Luncheon was that it was intended to recreate and/or capture modern life on canvas and that modern life could produce work with subjects worthy to be displayed among other greats.

In regards to criticism on the subject matter, the woman in the foreground was inferred as, possibly, a ‘lady of the night’ – why else would such an unknown character be naked in a public park, in essence, a public display of nudity, if she wasn’t someone of poor character? And who are the two guys sitting with her? In reality, it is said they are students. So, this alone is said to have gone for a Jerry Springer effect – shock value – in an attempt to take the easy road to celebrity. Titians paintings included subjects, even nudes, that were dignified – people who were, in some way, important, and, if nude, portrayed in a way that is honorable and not in ‘shadey’ circumstances.

Beyond this, Manet’s style is criticized. His technical prowess is seriously challenged. First, his perspective is way off, then, his drawing skills are seriously lacking, the spatial tension is at odds and the color values are at the extremes. The highest and lowest values are paid high attention to, but, nearly all the middle tones are nonexistent. Also, people say it is an unbelievable piece, that it is not a scene naturally occuring outside. Because of how it is painted, it is clear to the careful observer that the scene and the painting actually occured indoors, inside a studio.

So, in his time Manet failed in this piece. Yet, Manet, along with this piece, still succeed. The following movements, the Realists look to him as a leader. This group also believed that modern life was the most suitable subject matter for art. And, thus, a new era is born.

Textbook Living with Art, Mark Getlein, McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages; 10th edition (2013) ISBN13# 97800773379258


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