Manet and Modern Beauty at the Art Institute

9 July 2019

Autumn (Méry Laurent), 1881 or 1882
Édouard Manet. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy, Nancy, France. Photo by P. Mignot.
Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Only a short walk from 1000M, Manet and Modern Beauty at the Art Institute of Chicago is a deep and nuanced look at French modernist painter Édouard Manet.Though the father of Impressionism’s early transgressive works from the 1860s and 1870s are his most famous, this special exhibit explores the transformation of his style throughout his later years to create a complete picture of the artist. As Manet said, “I must be seen whole.” 


Édouard Manet

Alongside being called the father of Impressionism, many have referred to Manet as the bridge between Realism and Impressionism. It is true that his art bridged the gap between the two evolving art styles and that Manet was provocative and influential to the Impressionist movement, but the artist did not involve himself with Impressionists themselves. His style, marked by loose brush strokes, simplification of details and the suppression of transitional tones, often leading his works to be regarded as “unfinished” by others.


Manet and Modern Beauty

Showcased in the exhibit are more than 90 paintings, pastels and works on paper. The work included ranges from the late 1870s to 1880s before his death.


At that time, Manet’s health problems and limited mobility led him to pursue works on a smaller scale. As an upper-class French gentleman, Manet was often inspired by the world around him; going to the opera and the racetracks informed his understanding of modern Paris and the way that he portrayed it through his paintings. Being homebound forced him to recreate a new version of modern life in his own studio and home. 


Many of the paintings in Manet and Modern Beauty are portraits with fashionable femininity. Manet would invite over models and favorite actresses, bourgeois women, his wife and intimate male friends to pose in his backyard. What resulted were posed portraits that evoked the world that he missed through the visage of a single person, making for stunning and powerful works of art. Manet’s own comfort with female companionship also allowed him to portray women with an ease and comfort that was rare and admirable. 


Alongside his portraits, Manet and Modern Beauty showcases letters Manet sent to his friends that include illustrations. His letters show his unwillingness to relay his pain and suffering through ill-health; his gentlemanly upbringing urged him to keep up appearances and remain ever-engaged with the modern world and its beauty. 


The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL. They are open every day of the week, 10:30 AM – 5 PM, and until 8 PM on Tuesdays. For more information on planning your visit, check out their website.