Goya and Manet, artists linked by their work

Reply Sun 25 May, 2003 04:54 pm
I found links with photos of similar pieces by Goya and by Manet, Goya's preceding Manet's by fifty years or so.

The Executions of the Third of May, 1808, done in 1814 by Francisco Goya
This is in the Museo del Prado.

Eduoard Manet's Execution of Maximilian (first version) c. 1867
This is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
I haven't found an online photo of the second version, done in 1868. This is in the London National Gallery.

http://users.chariot.net.au/~taetia/study/goya.html essay on Goya's art works that are about execution.

I bring this up because we have been talking on the art forum about art and war for a while now. We had the Guernica thread, and an art chat topic Art in the Time of War, and I have mentioned seeing the Manet/Velasquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting show recently at
New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art; that wasn't all about war, but did deal with painting precedents.

And now I have picked up at a local used book store a find entitled "Manet,
The Execution of Maximilian: Painting, Politics and Censorship" put out by the National Gallery, London. This book shows lots of images of work by Goya and others along with later work by Manet.

The book put out by the Metropolitan Museum on its exhibit on Spanish and French painters - this has the same title as the exhibit - is a thick and glorious compilation of many masterpieces with a fairly dense text on whose work affected who else's, in what ways at what time.

Some of the works in that Met Museum exhibit are closer in style and content than the examples I linked above.

I found that exhibit fascinating. I had never understood before how much artists have straightforwardly copied and adapted others' work...what threads can be woven so thickly through art history. I knew it happened..much of art seems to be one long conversation.... but not so bountifully. Well, I wasn't an art history major. This would not be such news, as to its prevalence, to people who have spent more time reading and seeing than I have.

I know Colorific saw the Spanish French show, and that Farmerman is interested in Goya's Capricio etchings. I'd enjoy hearing everything I can on these painters...

Do you have any sense of similar connections going on in present day art?
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Reply Sun 25 May, 2003 07:36 pm
I found a NY Times review of that Met show -


The Masters of the French Masters Were Spanish
March 7, 2003 New York Times

WITH the arrival of the star-studded "Manet/Velázquez," now open at the Metropolitan, we might pause briefly to notice what's going on around town. Half of the great museums in Europe and across the United States suddenly seem to have been emptied out and the art shipped to New York. Never mind the bad economy, declining foreign tourism and the high costs of insurance after 9/11. The big news is that the Met and the Modern have managed loan shows like "Matisse Picasso" and "Leonardo Da Vinci: Master Draftsman." And now this, which is at least as spectacular.

I can't remember the last time the city's large art museums simultaneously had such extravagant loan exhibitions. The world is changing. This moment may pass. We shouldn't take it for granted.

I begin in gratitude partly because that is the natural first response to seeing so many works by Velázquez, the greatest painter who ever lived. I like Rubens's remark, which I'm sure is apocryphal. Rubens, who considered himself the leading painter alive, went to Madrid in the 1620's and met the young Velázquez, with whom he had corresponded. "Oh," he supposedly said after seeing Velázquez's art. "I didn't know about him."

After Manet saw Velázquez, he said he didn't know why anyone even bothered to paint. Fortunately, he also said that the sight of Velázquez's paintings gave him "enormous hope and courage," which is what great artists do for other artists; and the Met exhibition auspiciously begins with Manet's portrait of Jean-Baptiste Faure, the opera singer, in the role of Hamlet, beside Velázquez's portrait of Pablo de Valladolid, the court jester, which inspired it.

I heard unpromising reports about this show when it was in Paris. The local organizers apparently stressed too many minor compatriots to illustrate the widespread influence of Velázquez, Murillo and other Spanish painters on 19th-century French art, which is the show's thesis, a truism of art history that hardly seemed necessary to prove, anyway.

The Met and its curator, Gary Tinterow, have clearly called in every chip to make this version better. The first rooms are a virtual survey of great Spanish painting of the 17th and 18th centuries; after that comes a virtual Manet retrospective, with some Degas and Courbet thrown in for good measure; then a virtual 19th-century American overview of the most gifted portraitists influenced by Spanish painting via Manet, Degas and Courbet: Eakins, Chase, Sargent and Whistler. The level of painting is almost absurdly high throughout. Let me dispense with a few equivocations. The general theme is still not a novelty, and the scholastic excuse of tracking influence here casts Velázquez, Ribera, Zurbarán, El Greco and Goya awkwardly in the supporting role of precursors to modernism, sublime artists enrolled to buttress later talents, a skewed way to acknowledge their value, which should be self-evident.

Nor does the show, being academically diligent, avoid French second-raters who absorbed Spanish art, although they are given comparatively short shrift. All shows these days could be smaller. This one is no exception.

Finally, beautiful though the American art is, even apt at the Met, it belies the show's subtitle, "the French taste for Spanish painting," leading the exhibition down an exquisite byway, which feels slightly tacked on at the end.

Having said all that, the best art is so inspiring and Mr. Tinterow illustrates the show's main theme in such precise and fresh detail, discreetly, without pushing comparisons (in that respect it's not like "Matisse Picasso," notwithstanding the coincidental title pairings), that you would have to be churlish not to leave edified and amazed.

The first room of Spanish paintings is, by itself, one of the finest displays of old master art the city has had in years: you grasp instantly why the works of Velázquez, Ribera and Zurbarán made such an impact on artists like Courbet and Manet, which, I suppose, is the argument for bringing the best possible Spanish art here.

The effect of this influence was to turn French art toward gritty realism. Ribera's club-footed "Beggar," the essence of coarse humanity, elevated by divine painting, is an obvious model.

More curious is that an artist like Zurbarán, whose austere and profound literalness made him seem anachronistic in his own time, would seem modern to French artists in the 19th century for those same qualities. His "Saint Casilda," with its flat pattern and deep space, the saint's delicate head tilted questioningly toward us, looks almost gothic.

But this quality is what made her seem strangely worldly to the French in the 1830's and later. That is how taste works sometimes.

Mr. Tinterow writes in the show's introductory wall text that 19th-century French artists, seeing Spanish art through a modern lens, progressively shifted from "idealism to realism, from Italy to Spain, from Renaissance to Baroque, from carefully finished porcelainlike surfaces to the sketch aesthetic of Impressionism."

So the exhibition tracks an arc of increasing French absorption, starting in the 18th century, when there were few Spanish pictures in France. Velázquez was hypothetically esteemed but nowhere visible. Zurbarán and El Greco were unknown. The only painting by Zurbarán in France was misattributed to Ribera. Diderot, in his "Encyclopédie," wrote about eight schools of European painting, none of which was Spanish.

Then Napoleon invaded Spain and Spanish art was shipped in bulk to France. Delacroix as a schoolboy saw the paintings in the Louvre. Much of the art had to be returned after Napoleon was ousted. But Marshal Jean de Dieu Soult, the commander of Napoleon's French army in Seville, having seized many paintings, took them back with him to Paris and kept them. His house became the de facto Galerie Espagnole in France until King Louis-Philippe sent Baron Isidore Taylor to Spain in the 1830's to acquire pictures for an official Galerie Espagnole at the Louvre.

The collection Taylor put together included dozens of El Grecos, Murillos, Zurbaráns and Goyas. Dovetailing with a vogue for all things Spanish, it made an immense impression on artists like Courbet. Manet, who visited the gallery as a teenager, never forgot it.

At the Met, the Spanish pictures all have pedigrees linked to this history: they were seized by Napoleon, owned by Soult, purchased by Taylor for the king or viewed, one way or another, by French artists later. Louis-Philippe was dethroned in 1848 and his collection returned to him, leaving the Louvre temporarily with only about a dozen Spanish paintings. But by then, provincial French museums and various private collectors in Paris, like the Comte de Pourtales-Gorgier and Lord Hertford, had amassed Spanish collections.

French artists now also traveled abroad to see Spanish art. Manet went to Madrid in 1865, although he extended, striding forward, seems to step straight into our space. Colors vibrate: red beret, blue jacket and brown duffle coat. Pigment dissolves flesh into freestanding brushstrokes. The head, pasty and patchwork, is like an actor's: vivid, particular, stagy, somewhat exaggerated and of this moment. The affectation is rakish.

Carried a step further a work like thad already painted Spanish pictures like "Dead Toreador" and "Monk at Prayer," which at the Met is paired with its source, Zurbarán's "St. Francis in Meditation," from the inventory of Louis-Philippe's gallery.

Zurbarán's saint obviously fulfilled theatricalizing French fantasies at the time about dark, mystical Spain. This is not a picture of Francis cheerfully singing with the birds. It's a harsh, slightly terrifying image, the ecstatically upturned eyes of the saint shrouded in a massive habit whose rough fabric Zurbarán painstakingly describes, casting hard light on a skull Francis clutches to his breast. The saint's open mouth and the skull's eye sockets are black pools, light picking out the figure from darkness that then swallows it back up.

The influence on Manet was direct: with his monk, he painted the skull and dark cloak and isolated the figure kneeling against a bare brown backdrop. But the differences are instructive: there's the black outline, flattening form, stressing pigment as independent agent; the face, sculptured in paint, illuminated by spotlight, picks out vivid pink, yellow and green, a modern palette.

The expression is also almost sour, the eyes shut or nearly so, as if the monk, struggling to concentrate, noticed out of the corner of his eye the skull on the floor to his side the way you might glimpse a rat scurrying along the wall.

Manet's figures, though isolated like Zurbarán's, are more specifically about the here and now. His "Philosopher (Beggar in a Cloak)," with one hand extended, striding forward, seems to step straight into our space. Colors vibrate: red beret, blue jacket and brown duffle coat. Pigment dissolves flesh into freestanding brushstrokes. The head, pasty and patchwork, is like an actor's: vivid, particular, stagy, somewhat exaggerated and of this moment. The affectation is rakish.

Carried a step further a work like this could become Sargent's "Dr. Pozzi at Home," which is all style, color and immediacy.

Immediacy is also a quality of Goya's art. It is visible in the miraculous little portrait of an artist, Asensio Juliá, a picture of rushing air and rustling fabric, arrested by minute detail: the sheen on his silk stockings, the touch of red paint on a brush in a bowl at Asensio's feet. You see the same arrested movement in the frozen tension of a bull and bullfighter, facing off, blood pouring from the picador's gored horse, an image Manet imitated but with intensified light and color.

Manet's inspiration for his "Beggar" was "Aesop," by Velázquez, which, like all profound art, defies complete explanation. You see the difference here between Manet's drama and Velázquez's truth. Compared to Velázquez, Manet admitted, other painters "seem completely like fakers."

Everything in the picture is perfectly measured, the weight of the baggy eyelids, of the hand resting in the cloak, of the body turned at the hip. The figure balances on a foot turned casually on its edge.

Velázquez discreetly orchestrates our gaze by painting a big sweeping curve that stretches from the open collar of Aesop's cloak down and across his chest to the hip and to the book he supports with a crooked finger, whose visual purpose is to turn our eye back upward into the picture. The expression on the face is unforced, unsentimental, exact and detached but at the same time engaging.

It seems to reach across the ages. The writer Ortega y Gasset said Velázquez's work "isn't art; it is life perpetuated."

I think something Lucian Freud once observed about Rembrandt describes the same effect. "You feel you are privileged," he said, because the artist "is giving you an ennobling insight into the nature of people. I don't mean he has made the people seem virtuous, but I mean it is ennobling to be told something so truthful."

Great art is always about human nature. This show is full of truths about life.
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