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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Manet: In the Conservatory

Manet: In the Conservatory
(Dans la Serre)
oil on canvas, 1879
Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin
no copyright infringement intended

The two personages were friends of Manet, and the setting, a greenhouse at 70 Rue d'Amsterdam in Paris, was used by the artist as a studio for nine months, in 1878 - 1879. The painting had some dramatic moments in its history: looted by Nazis it was recovered in 1945 in a salt mine, among other artworks.

Is this a too conventional painting, with the master making concessions to public taste? Some jumped to this conclusion, while others noticed something beyond the obvious: a sense of dislocation between subjects and background, two completely different worlds sharing nothing but vicinity. Said Huysmans, (they are) marvelously detached from the envelope of green surrounding them. And going further, a sense of detachment between the two subjects, maybe replicating the detachment between them and the background.

The interplay of lines formally defines the work. The woman has an erect posture echoed by the vertical slats of the bench, and the man, though leaning forward, does not break that vertical. The bench continues off the right side, reinforcing the horizontal and the separation of foreground and background. The diagonal pleats on the woman's dress provide some relief from the linearity of the composition (wiki).

And a quick note for non-English speakers: the word conservatory carries two different meanings - musical college, and greenhouse.




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