Manet Face to Face
14 October 2004 — 9 January
“The perfect exhibition”
The Sunday Times, Culture, 5 December 2004
“This was a boldly minimal thing for the Courtauld to do, and everyone should subject themselves to this astonishing experience.”
The Mail on Sunday 5 December 2004
“A brilliant answer to the idea that blockbusters are the only shows worth staging.”
The Independent on Sunday, 14 November 2004
This special display, generously supported by The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Foundation, brought together two of the most celebrated paintings by Édouard Manet (1832-83): The Luncheon (1869), one of the great treasures of Munich’s Neue Pinakothek, and the A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1881-82), owned by the Samuel Courtauld Trust.
These two masterpieces were last exhibited together, although not in the same room, in the 1983 Manet retrospective in Paris and New York. The catalogue to that exhibition described The Luncheon as Manet’s “first true ‘naturalist’ scene, initiating a series that a decade later would lead to A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.” [Manet, 1983, p. 294]. Since then scholars have frequently returned to discuss the relationship between these two key works in Manet’s oeuvre, and there are indeed many similarities.
Of comparable size, the two paintings present scenes of everyday life in contemporary settings, both featuring food and drink. The central focus is a large three-quarter length figure, arranged close to the viewer and looking out into our space. In both pictures the viewer is immediately presented with oddities and contradictions, of subject matter and spatial composition. And both works confound conventional rules and expectations, with the interaction of the main characters remaining resolutely illegible and their faces passive and inexpressive. Both pictures ultimately create scenarios that refuse to be interpreted according to any one social or moral viewpoint. Instead, they present a world open to multiple readings and interpretations and have, in this capacity, been central to the notion of Manet’s modernism.
Unlike the Impressionists, Manet chose to exhibit and compete at the Salon, regarding its crowded and densely hung halls as ‘the true field of battle’. The Luncheon and A Bar at the Folies-Bergère were both designed for and first exhibited at the Salon (in 1869 and 1882) and their pictorial strategies were clearly planned with that context in mind. The powerful centrality of the principal figures and their gaze into the viewer’s space are two of the most obvious and successful aspects of Manet’s approach. However, the power of The Luncheon and A Bar at the Folies-Bergère lies also in their profound psychological intensity, particularly in the complex depiction of the main figures in whose almost blank expressions so many commentators now see the dissonance and alienation of modern life.
The display was accompanied by a catalogue with essays contributed by the Courtauld and the Neue Pinakothek. Following the installation in London, both paintings will be on display in Munich from 20 January to 10 April 2005.