• Le Dejeuner sur l Herbe

Le Dejeuner sur l Herbe

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Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe
Artist: Manet
Oil painting on canvas; Size: 206x264cm; Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Among the paintings turned down by the jury of the 1863 Salon, the work was exhibited, along with those of other rejected artists (including Courbet and Dore) at the Salon-Annexe, created on the orders of Emperor Napoleon Ill to calm the controversy that had sprung up following numerous protests from the painters. Manet had been studying the composition, inspired by Renaissance pictures, for some time: in particular the pose of the three figures at the center derives from a print made by Marcantonio Raimondi after Raphael, the Judgment of Paris ,and it is possible to identify the strong influence of Titian's Concert Champetre .The artist knew that the painting would be seen by his contemporaries as a provocation and an offense against public decency ("they are going to maul me," he had confided to a friend), and yet hoped to make a name for himself with this work. The theme in itself was not particularly scandalous: a group of figures against a natural backdrop, a female nude. But it was the contrast between the avowedly classical composition and the contemporary setting, between the bourgeois dress of the men and the nakedness of the woman, that shocked. Even more disconcerting for contemporaries was Manet's manner of painting, as the elderly Delacroix understood at once: "The strident tint cuts into the eyes like a steel saw; the figures stand out with a force and crudity that are not softened by any compromise. It has all the acerbity of those fruit that never ripen." Manet proposed a painting in flat areas of color, based on sharp contrasts and influenced by his study of Goya and Velazquez, as well as by Japanese prints, especially those of Utamaro. At the same time he constantly sought a balance of composition and experimented with soft harmonies of color, in subdued tones: an art, as Zola would put it, based on simplifications of form created "by the artist's clear and judicious eye [...] delightful in their grace and real in their asperity" With the Dejeuner sur l'herbe, Manet placed himself at the head of the young painters who no longer accepted the academic conventions of the time: though he did not himself take the route that was to lead to Impressionism, he did, with the masterpieces of these years, sow its intellectual and artistic seeds.

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