Yesterday it was the last day of the exhibition entitled: “Manet: Portraying life” in Royal Academy of Arts. I visited it on Saturday and despite the bad weather, there were such large queues of people waiting to see the exhibition and honestly, it was worthy! In this text I want to comment on the organisation of the exhibition and not so the actual paintings. I was really happy to discover that it was an exhibition structured in a way that even people that have no creative background would learn things about Manet, his life, but also the social environment of his time (1832-1883).
To begin with, at the entrance every visitor would take a leaflet with information about every room of the exhibition. From my point of view, the exhibition succeeded in informing people about Manet, his work and his influences. This was a result of the devision of the rooms Manet’s family, his life, his most important pieces, Manet’s cultural circle, Manet’s status portraits and his models. Through this organisation of space, the viewer can understand Manet’s social influences, the love to his wife, but also the power of his own social status.
In addition, Manet has such a great variety of paintings that the visitor could understand that the artist experimented a lot and that he changed styles and colour palettes.He was also open to innovation as he accepted the value of photography that had begun to be used. What was also interesting was that, in the museum’s effort of showing the style of life and the environment where Manet lived, there was a room dedicated in Paris and its’ structure at the period that Manet used to live there. In the same area, there was a space, with a french brasserie style, where people could sit and read books about Manet and watch a related video. In other words, for me this exhibition wanted really to introduce to people Manet’s culture and make them enjoy the time in the exhibition, spend time there having, in a way, interaction with the space and learn about Manet not only as a painter, but also as a symbol of realism.
Another interesting thing about this exhibition was the special programme for kids. Children were invited to answer questions and draw on papers in relation to the paintings. As the rooms didn’t have bright lights , the environment was really welcoming and, despite the great number of visitors, people would be able to see all the paintings easily.
While observing people’s reactions, I realised that, due to the “advertisement” of some portraits, people would tend to focus more on these ones. The painting that draw most attention was the one entitled “Music in the Tuileries Garden”. It is obvious that this painting is of great cultural value as it has great polysemy, it illustrates many intellectuals and artists, it has an amazing use of colour and it includes Manet himself as well. Surprisingly enough, there were as some less known paintings that captivated people like “The tragic actor”.
Lastly, I would like to speak about my own favourite painting of this exhibition, the portrait of Emile Zola. I have seen this painting in Musee d’Orsay some years ago, but it still makes me spend time just looking at it. The actual portrait of Zola is amazing, the face , the colours everything. What also I find amazing is that Manet has found unique ways to identify things for the specific time that this painting was created. This portrait was a gift to Zola to thank him for defending Manet’s rejected work from the Paris salon. The set in the painting is related to Zola’s occupation(writer) and he holds a book where is written “Manet”, that works as Manet’s signature and also as Zola defended him again in La Revue du XXe siècle. “On the wall is a reproduction of Manet’s Olympia, a painting which sparked a fierce scandal at the 1865 Salon but which Zola held to be Manet’s best work. Behind it is an engraving from Velazquez’s Bacchus indicating the taste for Spanish art shared by the painter and the writer. A Japanese print of a wrestler by Utagawa Kuniaki II completes the décor. The Far East, which revolutionised ideas on perspective and colour in European painting, played a central role in the advent of the new style of painting. A Japanese screen on the left of the picture recalls this” (Musee d’Orsay). This painting is a proof of real friendship between the two men.