Wednesday 16 January 2013

Dappled things

Set aside 10 minutes today to read this lovely piece by Philip Hensher on Manet and his portraits:
Manet's art is devoted to the wrong thing in the wrong place, unpredictably caught out and spotlit by the fall of light or the pitiless gaze. Le DĂ©jeuner sur l'Herbe, with its outrageous combination of clothed male figures and nude, or deshabillĂ© women, was defended by Zola on the grounds of classical precedent. (Not quite as much as Zola claims, however.) There are Giorgione landscapes and Titian interiors that exploit the same contrast. But Manet's point is the indecency of the contrast in a contemporary context – the very fashionable little tassled cap on the head of one of the men is the most obscene thing in the painting. Similarly, in the sumptuous Olympia, what turns the nude into a shocking study of a prostitute? It is the clothes – the clothes the maid wears, the orchid in the hair, the black ribbon about the neck, the pearl earrings and the bracelet, and above all, the slippers – that transform the nude. There are franker 19th-century studies of the female form, such as Courbet's Origine du Monde, but none so ingeniously obscene.

(via Michelle Menzies)

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