Homage to Manet

A Studio at Batignolles (also called Homage to Manet), 1870

 

Les Batignolles was the district where Édouard Manet and many of the future Impressionists lived. Henri Fantin-Latour, a quiet observer of this period, has gathered around Manet, presented as the leader of the school, a number of young artists with innovative ideas: from left to right, we can recognise Otto Schölderer, a German painter who had come to France to get to know Gustave Courbet‘s followers, a sharp-faced Manet, sitting at his easel; Auguste Renoir, wearing a hat; Zacharie Astruc, a sculptor and journalist; Émile Zola, the spokesman of the new style of painting; Edmond Maître, a civil servant at the Town Hall; Frédéric Bazille, who was killed a few months later during the 1870 war, at the age of twenty-six; and lastly, Claude Monet.

Their attitudes are sober, their suits dark and their faces almost grave: Fantin-Latour wanted these young artists, who were greatly decried at the time, to be seen as serious, respectable figures. Only two accessories remind the spectator of the aesthetic choices of the new school: the statuette of Minerva bears witness to the respect due to the antique tradition; the Japanese style stoneware jar evokes the admiration of this entire generation of artists for Japanese art.

In this group portrait exhibited at the Salon of 1870, each man seems to be posing for posterity. The painting confirms the links between Fantin-Latour and the avant-garde of the time and Manet in particular. It echoes Zola’s opinion of Manet: “Around the painter so disparaged by the public has grown up a common front of painters and writers who claim him as a master”. In his diary, Edmond de Goncourt sneered at Manet, calling him “the man who bestows glory on bar room geniuses”.

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Homage to Delacroix

Study for Homage to Delacroix

 

When Eugène Delacroix died on August 13, 1863, the modesty of his funeral was seen as an insult by all those who considered him to be one of France’s greatest artists. Henri Fantin-Latour, especially, was outraged that no official tribute had been made. As it was common in the 19th century to celebrate prominent figures, he wanted to raise this monument himself with a manifesto painting that reunited the tenants of the modern movement, which he exhibited at the Salon of 1864. This sketch bears witness to the first project, in which six artists are gathered around the bust of Delacroix, crowned by one of them.

 

The Apotheosis of Homer

 

While it is clear that Fantin made deliberate reference to the coronations of the great men of theater on stage, the most striking source of inspiration for this artwork remains the 1827 painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Apotheosis of Homer. The artist made use of the same pyramid composition, with the bust of Delacroix placed in the center. Fantin, who depicts himself in the lower right of the composition with his palette and painter’s smock, draws the viewer’s eye to the object of veneration. By making reference to the painting by Ingres, he thus renders the significance of his work more easily understood: Delacroix, like Homer, embodies the genius that will be passed on to the next generations. The identities of the other figures in the sketch are more difficult to ascertain. They can nonetheless be deduced from the first list on a preparatory drawing with the names Legros, Whistler, Manet, Bracquemond, Duranty, Cordier, Myrionnet, and Régamey.

After producing a number of sketches for this painting, Fantin eventually decided on a final version that is housed at the Musée d’Orsay and far removed from this drawing. The final composition removes Myrionnet and Régamey, replacing them with Baudelaire, Champfleury, and Balleroy. The contemporaries are now positioned around a painted portrait of Delacroix, and no longer a bust.

 

Homage to Delacroix

Seated: Louis Edmond Duranty, Fantin-Latour himself, Champfleury et Charles Baudelaire.

Standing: Louis Cordier, Alphonse Legros, James Whistler, Édouard Manet, Félix Bracquemond et Albert de Balleroy.

Portrait of An Artist as A Flâneur

Édouard Manet, Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour, 1867

 

Édouard Manet photographed by Félix Nadar, circa 1867-70

 

Édouard Manet was at the peak of his notoriety when the young Henri Fantin-Latour exhibited this portrait at the Salon of 1867. Manet himself chose not to submit any work that year, having had his submission rejected by the 1866 Salon jury. In this commanding image of the great French artist, Fantin portrayed Manet not as a painter, but as a flâneur, a sophisticated man-about-town whose eyes are open to every nuance of modern life. The background of the painting is almost completely blank, both in homage to works by Manet and in emulation of photographic portraits of the period.

In 1867, having been regularly rejected by the official Salon, Édouard Manet decided to present a private exhibition of 56 of his works in an independent pavilion close to the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Henri Fantin-Latour’s decision to submit this portrait of his friend—signed “To my friend Manet”—to the Salon that year may have been calculated to play off Manet’s increasing notoriety. A critic admitted that it was hard to reconcile the elegant figure in the portrait with the long-haired bohemian he had imagined Manet to be.

The Rimbaud Complex

Paul Verlaine (far left) and Rimbaud (second to left) in a painting by Henri Fantin-Latour, 1872

 
 

Perhaps the best model to explain the artistic ideals of both the jazz musicians and the Beat writers would be the late 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud’s attitudes towards the artist’s duty to create was quite similar to that of the jazz musician and the typical Beat poet (though it is likely that the Beat poet would purposefully imitate Rimbaud while the jazz musician would be unaware of any similarities).

Rimbaud drank heavily, wrote poetry at a young age, and “burned out” much like a number of drug-using jazz musicians. Rimbaud’s dedication to his art was so fervent that, around the age of 21, he arrived at the point where he could do no more. Beats claimed Rimbaud as another “Secret Hero,” much like Charlie Parker or Miles Davis. The “Rimbaud complex” was an attitude that both the jazz musicians and the Beats shared.

Many Beats used heroin, Benzedrine and other drugs in adulation of the jazz musicians which used them, hoping that the drugs would do for them what they supposedly did for greats like Parker. Jack Kerouac wrote his most famous book On the Road, frequently heralded as the definitive prose work of the Beat era, on a three-day stretch fueled by a Benzedrine binge. William S. Burroughs used his dependency on heroin as an inspiration for books such as Junky and Naked Lunch. This is a tale with no moral, nevertheless, we know the high price they had to paid for getting into “artificial paradises” that later became “a season in hell”.