Manet: the Man Who Invented Modern Art


An excellent programme shown on BBC2 on Saturday. Not too heavy or too lightweight – I guess you could say it was “middlebrow”, but that suited me!  Presented by the critic Waldemar Januszczak (try saying that name after a few pints – on reflection try saying it when you’re sober) it looked at Manet’s art and his life. He has always been one of my favourite artists – since I learned to start appreciating art in my early twenties. A number of his paintings are particular favourites of mine,  especially Olympia, and despite his character flaws which were explored during this programme (and who doesn’t have those),  I admire his republicanism and leftish tendencies, reflected in his painting “The Execution of Maximilian”, even if he was essentially a “bourgeois radical”. That’s better, in my view, than being a reactionary. He did, after all, come from a bourgeois family – his father was a senior judge.

The Execution of Maximillian

The Execution of Maximilian

When discussing the more famous works such as “Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” and “Olympia”, the progamme “recreated” the pictures with live models. I’m not sure what the intention was in doing this as I don’t think it added to the understanding of the paintings, but I guess it was a device to make the viewer take notice, rather than simply displaying a flat image.

I’m also not sure about the title pf the programme. Did he “invent” modern art? He certainly helped to move art away from the stuffy traditions prevalent at the end of the 18th Century and was a major influence on the Impressionists but I don’t think that he deliberately set out to revolutionise art in the way the title of the programme suggests. I guess that its another device to grab attention.

Manet's Olympia

Manet's Olympia

Despite these reservations watching the programme was a good way to spend some time on a Saturday night at home.

Pictures from Wikipedia

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