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Letter Decorated with a Snail on a Leaf

Édouard Manet1880

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

With its piquant design of fresh greens and yellows applied over delicate gray wash, this illustrated letter exemplifies Manet's late watercolor practice. The snail perched on a leaf offers a laconic metaphor for the artist's situation in the summer of 1880, when he found himself more or less trapped in his Bellevue garden by a paralyzed leg that slowed his movements to a snail's pace. A horizontal crease through the middle of this sheet confirms that it was folded to fit in an envelope and sent ("snail mail") to an unnamed female friend. Although the identity of the letter's fair recipient remains uncertain, Manet's instruction not to “forget the ream of English paper" is clear enough. His new interest in watercolor necessitated a continuous supply of paper, often brought by visitors from Paris. For the artist and his contemporaries, watercolor was a quintessentially English medium; he used an English-made watercolor set, and many of his illustrated letters—including this one—bear English watermarks.

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