Manet and Modern Beauty Now Open at The Getty

A few years ago The Getty displayed the piece A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by the artist Édouard Manet and I was determined to go see it as I’d been a great fan of the artist since high school. But somehow I never made it to the exhibition and have been kicking myself ever since. So when I heard that the museum would be presenting a new exhibition centered around Manet I resolved to make it this time. Luckily, I was invited to a preview and last week viewed Manet and Modern Beauty.

Manet and Modern Beauty, currently on display at The Getty, is the first major exhibition of the artist’s later works. Encompassing the last 10 years of his career it features over 90 works of art ranging from portraits to still lifes to illustrated letters.

Édouard Manet French, 1832 – 1883 Letter to Henri Charles Guérard, Decorated with a Peach, Two Shrimps, a Seascape, a Cat, Four Portraits, and a Swallow, late Summer 1880 Watercolor (design); pen and ink (text) Unframed (closed): 20.2 × 12.7 cm (7 15/16 × 5 in.) Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris EX.2019.3.21

In his early career Édouard Manet was a provocateur, an impressionist who shied away from the term and an innovator shocking the art world with his in your face pieces such as the famed Olympia. A modern man in every sense of the word he chose to showcase Parisian modern life in all its aspects whether the art world was ready for it or not. But as his career progressed and his health declined he decided to devote his later years to works of a much more aesthetic nature. He was still a man of the modern age but absolute beauty became the centerpiece of his work culminating in the portrait Jeanne.

Édouard Manet French, 1832 – 1883 Jeanne (Spring), 1881 Oil on canvas Unframed: 74 × 51.5 cm (29 1/8 × 20 1/4 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 2014.62

Manet and Modern Beauty features works from over 50 lenders but Jeanne is actually a recent Getty acquisition. A huge success upon its debut in 1881 in recent years it’s been largely overshadowed by such works as Olympia and A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. Now it’s the exhibition’s centerpiece as curator Scott Allan notes, “…it perfectly epitomizes Manet’s consuming late-career interest in fashion, flowers, and seductive Parisian femininity.”

While it is indeed beautiful it’s not my favorite piece in the exhibition and I am particularly partial to the pastel Portrait of Madame Jules Guillemet.

Édouard Manet French, 1832 – 1883 Portrait of Madame Jules Guillemet, 1880 Pastel on canvas Unframed: 54.8 × 35.2 cm (21 9/16 × 13 7/8 in.) Saint Louis Art Museum, Funds given by John Merril Olin EX.2019.3.95

Manet chose an unusual medium for his pastels, canvas, and as such they are incredibly delicate. The fact that they remain so vibrant over 100 years after their creation is a minor miracle and the Getty is lucky enough to feature four in the exhibition. I adore Portrait of Madame Jules Guillemet and its naturalistic depiction of the subject matter. It’s so realistic that I half expect Madame Guillemet to get up from her chair and join me in conversation. And her expression shows real emotion – I see sorrow and a little weariness behind her bright blue eyes. It’s absolutely exquisite.

In fact, exquisite is the perfect adjective for the works featured in Manet and Modern Life. Whether they depict a vase of flowers, a garden or a famous opera star the pieces are exquisitely detailed and exquisitely beautiful. It may have taken decades for an exhibition to highlight the artist’s later years but it was well worth the wait. Whether you’re a Manet diehard, an aficionado of Impressionism or just a casual viewer the exhibition is sure to inspire. It runs through January 12, 2020 and should not be missed.


1 Comment

  1. Lyle October 22, 2019 at 3:13 am

    I was in LA over the weekend and went to see this. it was amazing. Sizable crowd on Sunday for this too. Good to see exhibitions like this are getting attention and glad the Getty is still going strong.

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