Édouard Manet - The Luncheon on the Grass

by Alexandra Tuschka


Who does not know it? This work by the Frenchman Manet is in retrospect on the threshold of early Impressionism . The scene shows four people, three of whom are obviously at some kind of picnic and another in the background a little apathetic taking a bath. In front on the left a kind of still life scene shows all kinds of provisions for the outing. This is spread out on the lady's undressed clothes. She is naked, but the two gentlemen are fully clothed. They are depicted in a bourgeois and contemporary manner. Nevertheless, the scene has no obvious erotic content. The nudity here seems more like a matter of course and does not upset anyone here. The model was Victorine Meurat, a pub guitarist of little importance. Manet's brother, Eugène Manet, can be seen in front on the right. 

The light is mild, only a few rays of sunlight make it through the dense treetops under which the picnickers have made themselves comfortable. The lady in the background balances the sexes and thus recalls Titian's "Rural Concert". With her, Manet also deepens the pictorial space and has ingeniously added another "eyecatcher" that makes the pictorial theme more enigmatic. Clearly, Manet borrows the composition in the front from an engraving by Raphael showing the "Judgment of Paris". Interestingly, he chooses not the protagonists, but the staffage figures in the right edge of the picture. 

Manet submitted this work to the "Salon" in 1863, where it was rejected. It did not correspond to the strict, academic points of view. So it was exhibited at the "Salon des Refusés", a counter event of the rejected artists (of which there were many). Here the work was received with much attention, but also criticism, among other things for the choice of the female model and the salacious situation, which was legitimized neither religiously nor mythologically. Only a little later, the "Olympia" was created, which would further illustrate this trend.  


Édouard Manet - The Luncheon on the Grass

Oil on canvas, 1863, 208 x 264 cm, Musée d'Orsay in Paris