Art Essay


“Le Repos” By Edouard Manet

During the beginning of 19th century, Paris suffered a lot. For the first time in 400 years, the foreign military forces conquered it. The return of the monarchy during the Restoration period led to the July Revolution, and then in 1848, the February Revolution signed the creation of the Second Republic. Throughout these years, cholera epidemics whipped out many of the Parisian people. During the Industrial Revolution Paris met its period of greatest development: many streets and blocks were leveled to build new wider prospects. That helped to avoid barricades such loved by the Parisians. The Second Republic ended in the Franco-Prussian War, and many Parisians organized the Paris Commune in opposition to the Versailles government. The Commune fought on two sides, showing their opposition to Prussians and to Versailles simultaneously. This ended into the Bloody Week, when Versailles government executed 20,000 of Commune-aligned soldiers. Despite all this bloodshed and constant renovations in politics and government structure, Paris remained the role of pioneer and leader of different arts, such as impressionism.

Impressionism is a Paris-born direction in different kinds of art, especially in painting. The key concept of it lies in depicting motion of people, choosing unordinary angles of view and playing with light. Artists that worked in impressionism, often depicted the same the same small landscape in several periods, because the sum moved and the whole picture changed a lot (because of shadows, people on the painted landscape, etc.). In addition, most of the impressionist paintings are a number of abstract forms and lines at a close distance, though this forms transform to an understandable form if watched from afar. Artists were unaccepted by the major public and painters of the Paris, because of their independent view of art and non-classical approach to creating works. The only way out from this was to create independent expositions. Paris was reach for artists who worked in this direction, for example, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. However, this essay will discuss one of the greatest representatives to this direction of art, the man, who was the friend of all early impressionists – Edouard Manet, born 1832 in highly respected family, and specifically his work “Le Repos (The Portrait Of Berthe Morisot)”. Although Edouard Manet claimed he did not like the label “impressionist”, the vast majority of further impressionist painters claimed that his works influenced them very much.

Manet did this work in a time he was trying to finish the portrait of Eva Gonzales. The painting depicting Berthe Morisot was not the first on the list. Edouard Manet along his fruity art life drew 11 pictures that had Berthe Morisot on it (“Balcony” was one of them). Critics attacked his works because of his unusual painting style and themes choosing. However, the painting was criticized not on the technical aspect of the work. Artist published his work for the first time at the Salon (the official annual exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts) of 1873, and it had nothing else but these two words in its title “Le Repos” with no indication of a person who was on it. Yet many of people recognized Morisot, who was sister-in-law and a fellow painter of Manet. The person on a picture dressed in a white dress, lies on a sofa in dreaming pose, holding her fan and with handkerchief lying near. Her gaze is meditative, thoughtful as if she is dreaming of something. Everything on this picture seems to be silent, frozen, the life on it stopped. Sensuality is powerful, yet muted seems to fill the whole painting. The colors on this painting is highly contrasting – dark furniture and surrounding with the bright spot in the middle. It seems that the author tried to emphasize on this brightness of a person as if it was the brightest and the best experience of his life.  This is a masterpiece – and a confession of a man. There was no secret that feelings between Morisot and Manet were more than friendship.

It is not a secret that Manet, as the public person, was the subject for different gossips and rumors. His early works were critically acclaimed because of his nonacceptance of reigning direction of art in that time. He was very honest and cheerful person, and no one could say of the struggle inside him. Morisot wrote in one of her letters that Manet visited them and was interested with works of Morisot. She was astonished, when he praised her works, and there were no doubt that he was telling his true feelings. Berthe was sure that she did better than Gonzales. But she always remembered, that Manet always loved and praised the works of the ones he loved.

Including “Le Repos” to his exhibition would be the right choice for him, but instead he exhibited his portrait of Eva Gonzales. None suggested that Manet with his soft and kind character could be so prudent in his desire to hide his relationship to Berthe. He was afraid that this painting would reveal his true feelings to Morisot, and on second thought, publication of the portrait of Eva Gonzales is a trick, a trap to those who could find out about his sacred feelings to Berthe Morisot[1]. Manet decides to publish his work only after Berthe engaged to his younger brother Eugene.   This fact makes the exhibition of the painting more or less safe for him, allows him to trick and confuse critics and to cut any love ties between him and Morisot.

Another peculiar detail of this work is that many critics cannot decide whether this is a portrait or just a picture of a routine life. Manet never wanted it labeled as a portrait; he even told Berthe’s mother that it is an etude. Many argue that the picture itself has less repose that admitted – fan and handkerchief cast away, eyes wide open. It seems that a person either just sat on the sofa or is alerted and ready to act in some way. The contrast between the surrounding and the person, and the approach to the art in that time gave critics a reason to think of this picture as a portrait. Many of the details on the picture were praised more than others. As an example, Cham spoke of Morisot on this picture as of icon of slovenliness and misery. Theodore de Banville skipped arguing about beauty and lines on this work, instead he claimed that Manet succeeded in rethinking the whole concept of the repose, depicting it in a more modern style[2].

The painting gathered not much success compared to another works of Manet. Critics compared this picture to his famous work “A Good Glass Of Beer” to show that Manet was old and that he calmed down. This work showed his inability to introduce something new. But what if he did it on purpose, using the simplicity to express his real feelings and thoughts, and not to impress someone. The truth is out there, and this is undoubted that this is his most mysterious and honest picture.

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