BBC Radio 3
Sunday 13 January 2013, 7.45 pm

Edouard Manet: The Direct Gaze
Presenter: Fiona Shaw

Julian Barnes and Fiona Shaw in front of the Courtauld’s Manet A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, photo: Neil Spence

Actor Fiona Shaw unlocks the gaze of the famously naked women painted by French Impressionist Edouard Manet, the 19th century painter known as the father of Impressionism.  Yet little is known about him. He did away with mythology, allegory and history and instead painted the life around him. His friend Baudelaire wrote "You are only the first in the degeneration of your art".  Now, with a long-awaited exhibition of Manet’s work at the Royal Academy in London, Fiona Shaw – who enjoys painting when she's not acting or directing – stares back at the women in Manet's most famous works. She talks to historians and artists including author Julian Barnes, Manet's biographer Juliet Wilson Bareau, curator Stephan Guegan, art historian Tamar Garb as well as contemporary artists who carry a torch for their 19th century predecessor, including the father of Brit Art, Michael Craig Martin.

Manet first shocked the Paris salon in 1863 with his most famous painting, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, which shows a naked woman having a picnic with her friends in a glade on the Seine.  Rejected by the formal exhibition, it found its way to the Salon des Refusés, an invention of Napoleon III, who described it as "an offence against decency" while the Empress Eugenie walked past, determinedly averting her gaze. Manet followed this with his painting of a naked prostitute...

In this programme, Fiona Shaw strips back to explore painting itself. She visits the Musée d'Orsay to see Manet's great works, traces his influences from the Louvre and walks the streets near his studio to unlock the gaze of his sitters.