Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Why I never liked the “Lunch on the grass” by Edouard Manet

“Le déjeuner sur l'herbe” (the title can be translated as "Lunch on the Grass") is a large painting on canvas (2.08 m high and 2.645 m large) painted by Edouard Manet in 1862-1863. The artist exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés and it sparked controversy at the time because it featured a female nude with men dressed in contemporary clothes. It is interesting to note that mythical scenes with nudes were perfectly acceptable and on display in the Louvre museum.

I saw the painting many times when I visited the Galerie du Jeu de Paume in Paris, where it was exhibited until 1986, before being transferred to the Orsay museum.

The reason I don’t really like this painting is because of its inconsistencies that break the realism pact.

Rather than being blended into the surrounding nature, the figures are superimposed onto the landscape as if the landscape was just an after-thought. This is particularly flagrant for the women taking a bath in the background. You can see how she completes the three figures in the foreground, fitting into the triangular shape of the overall composition. However, compared to the tree and the boat on her right, she is out of proportion. To be in scale with the landscape where she is supposed to be, she would have to be twice as small as she appears on the canvas.

The second element that destroys the illusion that these four figures are really having lunch in the middle of the woods is the base of the trees. Many of these trees do not seem to have roots. The trunks are like straight lollipop sticks planted into the ground and the large tree by the side of the bathing women’s head looks stuck into the water.

Presented with these anomalies, I cannot refrain from thinking that these figures, far from being outside surrounded by nature, are in the artist’s studio and on a theatre stage with a painted backdrop.

Related resources

Wikipedia article on “Lunch on the grass”

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