As my favorite painting, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) has appeared on my blog on multiple occasions. There is just so much to say about this daring artwork by Manet. When I look at this memorable creation, I can’t help but admire its breathtaking evocation of modernity, its mesmerizing rendering of the truths of the contemporary mid-19th C. city. Echoing the writings of Baudelaire, the French poet and art critic, Manet paints a work that delves into the concept of beauty being of the present. Manet renders the world and the people of his day.
This becomes evident when one gazes at the figure of Victorine Meurent. Victorine Meurent, an artist’s model and an artist in her own right, is painted in the nude, surrounded by men fully clothed. Rather than be covered up, her blue hued garments are cast off to the side, as her naked light skin glistens in the glow of an invisible light source. Rather than be portrayed uncomfortable, her posture indicates a sense of freedom and relaxation, with her elbow leaning against her knee and her hand cupping her chin in thought. Rather than be timid and fearful, she is bold and not ashamed. She is shown as a modern woman of the city, someone who does not abide by the gender norms of the past.
Manet does not depict a scene that conforms to academic traditionality, but chooses to depict a scene of authenticity, of everyday 19th C. life.
With a thick usage of paint, the dark, powerful eyes of Meurent look at you, the viewer, directly. Heightened by a slight upturn of the lips, her countenance evokes this sense of confidence and knowledge about the world and the people who reside within in it. Her gaze is a gaze of art’s future, of modernity, of a rejection of the conservative, of the truth. She does not look down. She looks up.