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“Insults pour down on me as thick as hail” lamented Édouard Manet who throughout his career suffered ridicule for his pioneering paintings of contemporary French life. He is nonetheless now acknowledged as the father of modern painting and revered as one of the greatest and most innovative artists of the 19th century. Manet‘s subjects were drawn from everyday life in Paris unlike his predecessors who drew on history, mythology and religious subject matter for their epic paintings.
La Musique aux Tuileries is his first great outdoor urban scene which was not well received by the French art establishment. However Emile Zola recognised Manet’s inventiveness remarking “we are not accustomed to seeing such simple and direct translations of reality”. As Manet observed there are no lines in nature only areas of colour, one against the other. La Musique aux Tuileries was painted when he was thirty years old and captures fashionable Parisian society relaxing at a concert in the Tuileries gardens beside the Louvre.
The artist appears at the extreme left of the painting, half participant, half observer, while his brother Eugène is prominently positioned in profile in the foreground elegantly dressed in cream trousers, top hat and tails. Beside him seated to the right is the composer Jacques Offenbach whose Can Can remains the best known scene from his operetta Orpheus in the Underworld. Two ladies dominate the foreground swathed in cream voluminous gowns. Madame Lejosne to left was a famous collector who introduced Manet to the great French poet and writer Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire was a significant and influential figure in Manet’s life encouraging his career path and his innovation, finding the heroic in the everyday and the familiar. He is seen just behind Madame Lejosne and in contrast to her defined features, Baudelaire is sketchily portrayed in a fleeting impression - a modernist tribute by the artist to his pioneering friend. Just behind Baudelaire to his left is Henri Fantin-Latour, another great French painter best known for his still-life paintings.
Today it difficult to comprehend how La Musique aux Tuileries was such a controversial painting in the 1860s It is a superb composition innovative in technique and subject matter, a new reality which changed the course of European painting.
Irish Connection: Manet was well known to the Irish writer and art critic George Moore who was one of the few people in Ireland or Great Britain who knew the Impressionist painters in Paris. Manet painted three portraits of Moore. The only finished one is a pastel in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, depicting a rather startled Moore complete with his shock of red hair which the critics called Le Noyé Repêche - the drowned man fished out of the water. The charming unfinished oil sketch (also in The Met) shows a seated Moore in, most probably, the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes, which was popular with writers and artists and where, most likely, Moore first met Manet.
Édouard Manet (1832-1883)
Music in the Tuileries Gardens, 1862
Oil on canvas, 76.2 x 118.1 cm
The National Gallery, London. Sir Hugh Lane Bequest, 1917