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The Flight of Henri Rochefort

Édouard Manet1881

Kunsthaus Zürich

Kunsthaus Zürich

This very important late work by Edouard Manet has been a milestone of French painting in the collection since it was donated to the Kunsthaus. The motif constituted a particular challenge, as it was to be exhibited at the Salon of 1881 as a political statement. Deploying apparently simple means, Manet succeeds in making an artistic comment on a genre – history painting – that was still held in high regard at the time. The painting depicts the flight of the opposition politician and writer Henri de Rochefort, who was banished to a penal colony following the collapse of the Commune in 1871. Three years later, France learnt of his sensational escape from the island of New Caledonia. Manet made preparatory studies and finally two versions of the painting – one of which is in the Kunsthaus – based on newspaper reports and the accounts of those involved. By addressing the anecdotal pretext for the scene with painterly technique, Manet failed in his project to create a history picture for the Paris Salon of 1881; he did, however, create an artistic manifesto. Even the faces, except for that of Rochefort, are unrecognizable, subsumed in favour of pure painting. This placed him some way ahead of the younger Claude Monet, who also worked intensively on the effects of wind and light on the water surface. In so doing, he touched upon the most urgent problem for Impressionism at the time: the issue of content in a form of painting entirely preoccupied with stylistic accomplishment.

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  • Title: The Flight of Henri Rochefort
  • Creator: Edouard Manet
  • Date: 1881
  • Technique: Oil on canvas
  • Physical Dimensions: w114 x h143 cm
  • Original Title: L'évasion de Rochefort
  • Provenance: Society of Zurich Friends of Art, bequest of Dr. Adolf Jöhr, 1955
  • Type: painting

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