"To my friend Manet / Fantin 1867." This inscription in the lower-left corner of the Art Institute’s canvas was an indication to the Salon public of Henri Fantin-Latour’s continuing support for his embattled colleague, whose art had become a focus of controversy. Fantin, who had Realist allegiances, was rather reserved by temperament and had not yet made a strong impression on the Parisian scene. Depicting his subject wearing the elegant attire he favored in public—that of a fastidious boulevardier, replete with chamois gloves, top hat, and cane—Fantin set out simultaneously to demonstrate his own gifts and to belie the pervasive notion that Manet was a wild nonconformist. The result, one of the Fantin’s finest portraits, won him a new level of critical respect.
The paint is thinly applied, the handling discreet and controlled; even so, many of the contours seem blurry and the fabrics plush, as if softened by the surrounding atmosphere. Fantin used color here with extreme restraint; a blue cravat provides the only strong accent in an otherwise subdued palette of brown, black, gray, and olive. Perhaps this color scheme was influenced by Raphael’s portrait of Baldesar Castiglione in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, which Fantin had copied. The three-quarter length, neutral ground, and unmodulated tonal blocks may have had a more contemporary precedent in the photographs of eminent Parisians then issuing from the studio of Nadar. The pose, conveying decorous determination, was chosen by Manet himself. The facial expression is approachable but alert, fairly glowing with intelligence and resolve. Present at the Salon in this surrogate form (having refused to submit his own works), Manet seems to register his judgment upon the standards of the official art world.
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