Have to admit to knowing very little about Manet. I only knew him for his most famous, and provocative paintings, Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass. I am very ashamed to admit in my head I think I had him a little bit confused with Renoir.Aside from being French portrait painters of a certain era I don’t think Renoir and Manet have much in common. Where Renoir’s faces, are soft focus and romantic, Manet’s are sharply observed with and constructed with bold, coarse brush strokes. They reference techniques of the old masters, whilst simultaneously being inspired by the newly popular photography; works very much of their time.
This is yet another blockbuster exhibition for the RA, a growing trend that I have mixed feelings about. I am of course delighted that fine art is so popular that people will happily spend their morning queuing and fork out £15 to see it, but all this performance can somewhat over shadow the art itself. As much time that is spent looking at the paintings is also spent trying to peer around the backs of people’s heads.
My favourite pieces were those depicting Manet’s family. His wife tenderly painted seated at the piano, his son innocently blowing bubbles. The exhibition is called Portraying Life, and what Manet is portraying here is the life he knows.
I also loved seeing Manet’s most famous muse Victorine Meurent, the stunning red head in Olympia, in more ordinary, and more clothed, settings. Posing for a picture Meurent is playing a character, but the more portraits of her we see, the more we catch a glimpses of her personality beneath. She was a talented artist herself, apparently as comfortable on either side of the easel.The exhibition runs until the 14th of April, and if you don’t want to spend your morning queuing it is recommended you book your ticket in advance.