EDOUARD MANET: Rebel in a Frock Coat by Beth Archer Brombert

EDOUARD MANET: Rebel in a Frock Coat

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

This biography of Edouard Manet (1832-83) captures the significance of one of modern art's founding figures. Perfectly sociable in public, Manet kept his private life intensely private. This split self is at the center of Brombert's analysis of Manet's character, but since he left few personal writings, such as letters, Brombert (Cristina: Portrait of a Princess, 1977) can do little to penetrate the artist's innermost thoughts. She does, however, chart the course of his career and its context with skill and aplomb. Manet was born into the haute bourgeoisie as it boomed under the rule of Louis-Philippe. His father, a judge, hoped he would go into law or the navy, but a gift for caricature led him to take up painting instead. An attachment to Suzanne Leenhoff, originally his piano teacher, complicated Manet's youth. Some years after Leenhoff gave birth to a son, Manet married her. And while his decision was an honorable one, his reluctance to be seen in public with her showed his determination to wall off his private life. Professionally, though, Manet took a bold stance, producing paintings whose vibrant colors and everyday subjects shocked the art establishment. Manet's colleagues and champions included Emile Zola, St‚phane Mallarm‚, Berthe Morisot, and above all, perhaps, Charles Baudelaire. Brombert's readings of important canvases, from Le D‚jeuner sur l'herbe to the Execution of Maximilian to the Bar at the Folies-Berg≤re, generally shine, as do her accounts of the changing social and political environment in which Manet worked, and her informed discussions of syphilis, the disease that claimed Manet's father and then Manet himself. One does wish, however, that Brombert had placed more emphasis on the highly original idea of Manet's split self, which she introduces early on, suggesting that the incessant doubling motifs in his work reflect his character. Well researched, complexly conceived, and clearly written, Brombert's life of Manet achieves a balanced synthesis of art criticism, historical repotage, and biography.

Pub Date: March 4th, 1996
ISBN: 0226075443
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: "Little, Brown"