Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Busty Venus: Blonde with Bare Breasts by Edouard Manet


La blonde aux seins nus (1878)

We had a double celebration last week: Firstly, it was our birthday and secondly this blog passed over three quarters of a million visits since we began it in September 2008.

So, what better way to mark a double celebration than with one of the nude paintings that first impacted on our consciousness back in the early seventies. We have mentioned before that Triple P's father owned a book called The Female Nude in European painting from Pre-history to the Present Day by Jean-Louis Vaudoyer ( Longmans 1957) which is now ours.  A black and white reproduction of this Manet painting was on the opposite page to a colour picture of a Renoir girl which was our favourite picture in the book.

It was many years later during a visit to the Louvre that we saw the wonderful colours of the original.  We were accompanied on that visit by V, who also had a rather magnificent bust and engaged us in a discussion about the merits of hers compared with Manet's lady which, given the large numbers of American tourists surrounding us at the time was rather embarrassing.




Manet was born in January 1832 the son of a judge in a well-off and well connected family.  Rejecting a career in law his uncle encouraged him to paint and often took him to the Louvre.  Having foresworn law he tried for the Navy but failed the entrance examination twice and, eventually, his father let him study art; which he did from 1850 until 1856 under the academic painter Thomas Couture, whilst also travelling in Europe to study the great masters.

Adopting a Courbet-style realism he painted everyday life in Paris.  In 1863, however, he produced two paintings which would be hugely controversial.


Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863)


Firstly, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe where the controversy was not just about the naked girls with the fully dressed men but also the impressionistic quality of the painting.  Secondly, he produced Olympia, which was not controversial because of the nudity itself but because it was full of symbols indicating that the woman was a prostitute (the black cat for example).


Olympia (1863)


Somewhat battered by the controversy Manet stopped painting nudes and The Blonde With Bare Breasts is one of the very few he painted, fifteen years later, after the scandals generated by Le déjeuner sur l'herbe  and Olympia.  The identity of the voluptuous model is unknown but the change in his style from the earlier nudes to the much more impressionist technique is apparent.  His colour palette is also noticeably brighter although, unlike "real" impressionists he continues to use black and includes strong lines around the figure.


Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère (1882)


Last week we were in the Courtauld Gallery in London and got to see, for the first time, Manet's last great painting: Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère (1882).  We always get a little frisson when we gaze upon a famous painting for the first time!


Suzanne Leenhoff (c.1866)

 
In the same year as Olympia was exhibited Manet married his piano teacher, Suzanne Leenhoff, on the death of his father.  She may have been his father's mistress and was certainly Manet's.  The paternity of the son she had in 1852, Leon Leenhoff, who modelled for several of Manet's paintings, has never been settled and could conceivably have been either Manet.

Manet died in 1883 at the comparatively young age of 51, riddled with syphilis and gangrene, ten days after his leg had been amputated. 

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