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Execution of Emperor Maximilian by E. Manet Painting Essay

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Updated: Apr 23rd, 2020


Execution of Emperor Maximilian is a painting by Edouard Manet. The painting presents the political tension faced in Mexico during the mid 19th century. One thing about Manet’s painting is that it is complex in terms of its historical context.

The painting by Manet explores the decision by Napoleon III to control Mexico during the 1860s and the ineffectiveness of his policies. It also explains the reaction of the world against Napoleon’s inability to handle the matters affecting the world in the 19th century. This paper will, therefore, provide a formal analysis of Edouard Manet’s painting of 1867.

Historical Context of the Painting

In the 1860s, the allied troops from Britain, Spain, and France invaded Mexico to settle the debts owed by the Mexican government. The invasion resulted in the French occupation in the country. After forming the territory, Napoleon decided to make Maximilian Archduke of Austria the emperor of the newly created state.

The outstanding thing about the plan was that it was disastrous and ineffective thereby leading to greater problems in the country (Elderfield 26). Napoleon appointed Maximilian the emperor of the new territory after the Mexicans had weakened the French troops. Soon the troops withdrew from Mexico leaving the emperor unprotected.

The painting by Manet treats the politics of Mexico as something delicate and controversial. After examining the painting carefully, the two generals and Maximilian are easy to identify from the work. This makes it possible for the audience to explain what is happening in the scene and message intended by the painter.

The tone of this work is ambiguous and coolly (Timothy 19). The painting appears as reportage of the political unrest faced in the world at the historical period when the execution took place. Through this painting, the painter has successfully managed to satirize the society. The viewer can interpret this painting as a work of art trying to explain the controversies and issues that surrounded the death of Maximilian as the emperor of the state.

As a Republican, Manet was opposed to the policies applied by Napoleon and so he was ready to criticize everything about the leader. The work is significant because it illuminates an important historical development that led to the execution of Maximilian. To come up with the painting, Manet followed the events of French occupation especially how Napoleon withdrew his troops from Mexico thus leaving the emperor without enough protection.

This presents a lot of realism in the painting and explains the potential implications the politics of the time had on the society (Rosenblum 39). These aspects make the painting unique and meaningful to the present generation thereby bringing the historical context to its time.

Formal Analysis of the Painting

The painting by Manet has unique aspects that define it and explain the style and period into which the painting belongs. The first aspect used by the artist is the use of strong visual elements to bring a deeper meaning to the audience. The color of the uniform worn by the firing squad is characteristic of the rebels against the French occupation.

This presentation shows that the empire had declined. The act itself presents an aspect of censorship in an attempt to criticize the empire under Napoleon (Elderfield 73). The colors presented in the painting prove that the painter was against the occupation and Napoleon’s policies.

The mood and space used in the painting show that the painter was against the execution of the emperor. On the contrary, he was against Napoleon and the reason the events in the painting have caused heated debate about the whole issue. The painting satirizes Napoleon’s leadership, especially how it brought disasters in different corners of the world.

Produced in Mexico, the painting explores the need for self-governance and omission any foreign occupation (Fried 17). Manet decided to produce the painting because he was against the policies presented by Napoleon. This is also the reason why he used the work to bring enormous arguments about the invasion and the execution of the emperor by the Mexicans.

The painting has relied on movement, contrast, pattern, and balance to present a proper meaning about the issues emerging from the work. The author has used different colors to create texture and harmony, thereby making the painting appealing to the audience.

The painter has relied on these elements to create a unique message to the audience about the controversies in the murder of the young emperor (Rosenblum 44). These elements bring out the idea that the execution of Maximilian is something resulting from the disastrous occupation by the French under Napoleon.

As observed from the above discussion, there are unique elements and aspects of this painting by Manet about the particularities of how whom, and how the work of art was commissioned and produced.

Through these elements, the painter has managed to explore the subject matter and political agenda based on the geographical locations, the issue of contention, and the unique aspects adopted by the painter in his work (Fried 63). Produced by Manet, the painting condemns the role of the Europe invasion of different societies, thereby undermining the peace and freedom of the people. The execution of the young emperor raised many questions in Europe and elsewhere.

During the time this painting was drawn, impressionism was the only dominant style used by artists during the time. However, Edouard Manet decided to present his own style of realism. This painting therefore relies on this new style of realism.

The style made it possible for Manet to emerge as a great artist during the time (Laura 31). The work avoided the impressionism elements that had defined earlier works of art. Manet’s realism was composed of strong color, harsh lighting, and broken art or brushwork. This made the work to appear fresh and raw thus making the greatest artist of the time.

Manet relied on realism to denounce all forms of political unrest and crime faced in the world. This was necessary to change the public opinion thereby becoming a source of conjecture and political analysis and scandal. During the mid 19th century, the impressionism style had become common.

The style brought a new idea based on idealism and reelection of the society through different forms of art. However, Manet wanted to bring a new style through the idea of realism (Laura 53). He examined the issues affecting the society thereby relying on his works of art to explain the issues affecting the people in the wider society.

After analyzing this work carefully, the audience observes that the artist decided to rely on his own innovations and concepts thereby bringing the realism style. Although the style was not strong at the time, Manet was able to influence an increasing number of artists during the time thereby promoting the concept of realism. The style made it possible for the artist to examine the issues affecting the people and their society (Timothy 82).

Through the style, the painting embodies specific features of the geographic location and historical context out of which it has emerge. During the time, the French had invaded Mexico and the weakening troops made Napoleon to withdraw his soldiers from the country. Without doubts, it is agreeable that the painting has embodied pertinent features and elements of art thus making it one of the greatest works of art explaining the real events that characterized the society during the 19th century.


Many scholars and historians have studied the painting by Manet as one of the greatest and famous works by Edouard Manet although it became popular in the 20th century. Such kind of painting would only appear at its own time because the world appeared divided over the issue of global occupation and the need to promote democracy. Manet presented the new style of realism in different works of art in an attempt to satirize the politics of society and engage the world in a meaningful debate.

The style used by Manet also considers the historical period and geographical in which it had been set. This explains why a different work of art produced in a different historical period and geographical location would be very different. Because of the style and the historical context on the subject matter of the painting, it is acknowledgeable that it is an important work in the global history of the artwork.

Works Cited

Elderfield, John. Manet and the Execution of Emperor Maximilian. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2006. Print.

Fried, Michael. Manet’s Modernism: or, the Face of Painting in the 1860s. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Print.

Laura, Meixner. French realist painting and the critique of American society, 1865-1900. New York : Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print.

Rosenblum, Robert. 19th Century Art. New York: Abrams, 2004. Print.

Timothy, Clark. The painting of modern life: Paris in the art of Manet and his followers. New York: Random House, 1984. Print.

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