Interpretive Resource

Introduction: Latour's Portrait of Edouard Manet

An introduction to Fantin's Salon portrait of his friend, the well-known and controversial artist, Edouard Manet.

Brettell, Richard. French Salon Artists: 1800-1900. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago and New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987, p. 83.

Edouard Manet was at the peak of his notoriety early in 1867, when the young painter Henri Fantin-Latour started work on this famous portrait. Manet’s submissions to the Salon of 1866 had been rejected by the jury, and the deeply committed young critic Emile Zola had lost his job at the newspaper l’Evenement for his outspoken defense of Manet in his review of that Salon. This led to a relationship between the young novelist and the leading avant-garde painter of France that was to heat up the cauldron of artistic discourse in Paris throughout 1866 and 1867. On January 1, 1867, just one month before Fantin-Latour began work on this portrait, Zola fired a volley at "official" art in Paris by publishing a lengthy biographical and critical study of Manet in the magazine l'Artiste. Manet decided not to submit any work to the Salon of 1867, choosing instead to create his own "pavilion" outside the Universal Exhibition of that year. Yet, Manet was present at the Salon of 1867, not by his own paintings, but by this portrait, exhibited somewhat timidly under the title Portrait of MM. The title fooled no one because the painting was dedicated in large clear script, "to my friend Manet." Even without the dedication, Manet would not have escaped recognition. He was a well-known figure throughout Paris after his scandalous Luncheon on the Grass of 1863 and his controversial Mocking of Christ of 1865. Fantin portrayed Manet not as painter, but as a fidneur, a sophisticated man about town. He is superbly, but soberly, dressed for an urban outing, his top hat already in place and his hands holding a simple walking stick. The background of the painting is almost completely blank, both in homage to Manet’s painting Fifer of 1866 (Musee d’Orsay, Paris), which was rejected from the Salon that year, and in emulation of photographic portraits of the period. Although the background of Fantin’s Portrait of Manet is a gently painted field of gray-beige rather than the flat gray of Manet’s Fifer, the total effect of Fantin’s great portrait is one of extreme simplicity. Only the gold watch chain and the blue silk tie accentuate the outfit of this proper bourgeois. To Fantin, Edouard Manet represented a consummately urban artist whose eyes were open to every nuance of modern life. Manet’s image must have seemed to look down from the wall in mute judgment of the Salon that had so recently rejected him.

Impressionism, portraits


High School

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