The Luncheon in the Grass, with its depiction of a nude female with fully clothed men was a controversial piece when it was displayed at the Salon de Refuses in 1863. It was considered an affront to the times, not only because of the stark nudity of the woman in contrast to the men but also because Manet used familiar models for the figures in the painting. The nude woman is a combination of both his wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, and one of his other female models, Victorine Meurent. The men, on the other hand, are his brother, Eugene Manet, and his brother in law, Ferdinand Leenhoff. It was also considered controversial because it illustrated the rampant prostitution in Paris at the time, which was a taboo subject just to mention, much less display in an oversized canvas.More ...
Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (English: The Luncheon on the Grass) – originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) – is a large oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet created in 1862 and 1863. It depicts a female nude and a scantily dressed female bather on a picnic with two fully dressed men in a rural setting. Rejected by the Salon jury of 1863, Manet seized the opportunity to exhibit this and two other paintings in the 1863 Salon des Refusés, where the painting sparked public notoriety and controversy. The piece is now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. A smaller, earlier version can be seen at the Courtauld Gallery, London.
The painting features a nude woman casually lunching with two fully dressed men. Her body is starkly lit and she stares directly at the viewer. The two men, dressed as young dandies, seem to be engaged in conversation, ignoring the woman. In front of them, the woman's clothes, a basket of fruit, and a round loaf of bread are displayed, as in a still life. In the background, a lightly clad woman bathes in a stream. Too large in comparison with the figures in the foreground, she seems to float above them. The roughly painted background lacks depth, giving the viewer the impression that the scene is not taking place outdoors, but in a studio. This impression is reinforced by the use of broad "studio" light, which casts almost no shadows. The man on the right wears a flat hat with a tassel, a kind normally worn indoors.
Despite the mundane subject, Manet deliberately chose a large canvas size, measuring 81.9 x 104.1 in (208 by 264.5 cm), normally reserved for historical, religious, and mythological subjects. The style of the painting breaks with the academic traditions of the time. He did not try to hide the brush strokes; the painting even looks unfinished in some parts of the scene. The nude is also starkly different from the smooth, flawless figures of Cabanel or Ingres.
A nude woman casually lunching with fully dressed men was an affront to audiences' sense of propriety, though Émile Zola, a contemporary of Manet's, argued that this was not uncommon in paintings found in the Louvre. Zola also felt that such a reaction came from viewing art differently than "analytic" painters like Manet, who use a painting's subject as a pretext to paint.
There is much still not known about the painting, such as when Manet actually began painting it, exactly how he got the idea, and how and what sort of preparation works he did. Though Manet had claimed this piece was once valued at 25,000 Francs in 1871, it actually remained in his possession until 1878 when Jean-Baptiste Faure, opera-singer and collector, bought it for just 2,600 Francs.
The figures of this painting are a testament to how deeply connected Manet was to Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Some assume that the landscape of the painting is meant to be l’île Saint-Ouen, which was just up the Seine from his family property in Gennevilliers. Manet often used real models and people he knew as reference during his creation process. The female nude is thought to be Victorine Meurent, the woman who became his favorite and frequently portrayed model, who later was the subject of Olympia. The male figure on the right was based on a combination of his two brothers, Eugène and Gustave Manet. The other man is based on his brother-in-law, Dutch sculptor Ferdinand Leenhoff (nl). Nancy Locke referred to this scene as Manet’s family portrait.
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