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The Old Musician

Édouard Manet1862

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

In a review of the 1846 Salon, poet and critic Charles Baudelaire urged artists to depict "the heroism of modern life." Manet embodied Baudelaire's ideal painter of contemporary Paris. Emperor Napoleon III ordered the renovation of Paris under the direction of Baron Haussmann, and early in the 1860s the slum where Manet located his studio was being razed to accommodate the planned broad, tree–lined boulevards that still characterize the city. In this painting, Manet represented a strolling musician flanked by a gypsy girl and infant, an acrobat, an urchin, a drunkard, and a ragpicker—individuals the artist might have observed near his studio. The seemingly casual gathering is composed of the urban poor, possibly dispossessed by Haussmann’s projects. Neither anecdotal nor sentimental, Manet’s portrayal carries the careful neutrality of an unbiased onlooker, and this distinctly modern ambiguity and detachment are characteristic of all Manet's work.

By placing pigments side by side rather than blending tones, Manet could preserve the immediacy and directness of preliminary oil studies in his finished works. Effects produced by this technique were sharper and crisper than those obtained using academic methods. When they first encountered Manet's work early in the 1860s, Monet and Renoir admired his manner of painting and emulated it as they forged the style known as impressionism.

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Details

  • Title: The Old Musician
  • Date Created: 1862
  • Physical Dimensions: w2482 x h1874 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Chester Dale Collection
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • artist: Edouard Manet
  • Theme: genre, social realism
  • School: French
  • Provenance: (Manet sale, Paris, 4 February 1884, no. 9, withdrawn). Camentron, Paris; possibly from whom purchased 1897 by (Durand Ruel, New York and Paris), until at least 1904.[1] Alexandre Berthier, 4th Prince de Wagram [1883 1918], Paris, by 1906. P.R. Pearson, Paris, by 1912. (Galerie Arnot, Vienna); purchased 1913 by Österreichische Staatsgalerie (now Österreichische Galerie Belvedere), Vienna; released 1923 in exchange for two other paintings, possibly to (Galérie Barbazanges, Paris);[2] (Hodebert, Paris).[3] Acquired 1930 in Germany by (Galerie Étienne Bignou, Paris) for (Alex Reid & Lefèvre, London);[4] sold 1930 to Chester Dale [1883 1962], New York; bequest 1963 to NGA. [1] In 1904 Durand Ruel lent the painting to an exhibition in Dublin organized by the collector Hugh Lane (1875 1915), who established that city's Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in 1908. Sarah Herring, Assistant Curator of 19th Century Paintings, National Gallery, London, first brought the 1904 exhibition to the NGA's attention (letter to Philip Conisbee, 11 February 2002, in NGA curatorial files). Dr. Philip McEvansoneya, Head of the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at Trinity College, Dublin, kindly provided references to reviews of the exhibition, and suggested that Lane may have considered purchasing the painting, as the collector did buy several other works lent by Durand Ruel (e mail, 8 June 2006, and letter, 20 July 2006, in NGA curatorial files). [2] In several publications during the 20th century (1919, 1925, and 1960), the painting is referred to as being owned by the "Musée de Vienne, Autriche" and "the Vienna Gallery." An inquiry to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna was made in 2007, but no records concerning the painting were found. However, Karl Schütz, director of the KHM, suggested the painting had probably been instead at the Belvedere Museum, previously called the Österreichische Galerie; see e mail from Elke Oberthaler of the KHM, 31 August 2007, in NGA curatorial files. This was confirmed by Monika Mayer, of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, who kindly provided details of the 1923 transaction (see her e mail, 12 December 2007, in NGA curatorial files). The two paintings for which the Manet was exchanged were Marietta by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot and Badende by Auguste Renoir. [3] Hodebert was the successor to the Galerie Barbarzanges, which had been located on the property of fashion designer Paul Poiret. Poiret went bankrupt in early 1923 and lost the property; it is likely that the gallery changed hands at that time. [4] Correspondence between Bignou and Reid & Lefèvre dated April September 1930 (Lefèvre archives, Hyman Kreitman Research Centre, Tate Britain, TGA 2002/11, Box 218). The painting was possibly acquired through the Galerie Matthiesen in Berlin, where it was exhibited in 1928.

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