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Manet’s Le Dejuner sur L’herbe and Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr Essay

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Updated: Jan 7th, 2019

Édouard Manet and William-Adolphe Bouguereau are two famous 19th century French painters. They are widely famous for their painting techniques and influence that they had on the future generation of impressionist painters, such as Pablo Picasso. Édouard Manet and William-Adolphe Bouguereau were highly criticized for the subjects matters and painting manners that they used in their most famous pictures that we are going to compare and contrast in this paper.

The first picture is Edouard Manet’s Le Dejuner sur L’herbe created in 1863 and William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr painted in 1873. Those pictures were created during the same era; however, they present different artistic movements. Manet’s picture presents the transition from realism to impressionist demonstrating a modern life subjects.

As opposed to the Le Dejuner sur L’herbe, Adolphe Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr appeared just one year before the first impressionist exhibition was held; the painting represented the traditions of the academic art and, at the same time, predicted the launch of impressionism. Both pictures are united by common subject of female nudeness that, however, does not attract the eyes of the viewer, but service as the main means to express the main ideas of the pictures.

Thus, the first picture under consideration is Edouard Manet’s Déjeuner sur L’herbe (1863). This picture is considered to be one of the most famous and the most influential picture of the 19th centuries. It was created on the border of two great artistic movements, realism and impressionism. Thus, it has features of both periods. On the one hand, it depicts a realistic life-scene, on the other hand, a nude woman is an inappropriate “figure” in a life-scene picture.

The influence of the realistic movement is seen in its style and theme. However, the impressionistic manner is seen in the picture as well. First of all, it can be seen through the usage of colors and unique brushwork that was later adopted by impressionists. The picture demonstrates controversy that “was caused by the juxtaposition of a nude woman with a pair of clothed men seated in a landscape” (Rothwell 7).

The theme and painting techniques used by the artist were inspired by old masters, such as Marcantonio Raimond and his picture The Judgement of Paris, and such paintings of the Renaissance period as Titian and Giorgione. There is much in common with the painting Pastoral Concert that also depicts two dressed men and two nude women. In general, it can be said that the artist combined two genres in his picture, landscape and portraiture:

“His aim for the work seems to have been to combine the natural, pastoral setting – favored by the Barbizon painters in their own paintings of Fontainebleau – with a study of everyday, life-size people interacting with one another. In other words, he is fusing the genres of landscape and portraiture and placing the subject of modern life on a heroic scale” (“Manet’s Déjeuner sur L’herbe” n. p.).

It demonstrates the artist’s own style of painting. The picture provoked much debate regarding its composition and the use of light. The artist painted the scene that is not understandable for the viewer. Two men dressed as dendi seem to be communicating, however, one of them is ignoring the other one, as well as women in the picture. In addition, the artist used the light and shadow so that attract attention to the figures of women: they are very bright comparing to the figures of men and surrounding landscape.

The baskets and fruit that should be their lunch are tossed aside and nobody pays attention to them at all. A nude woman in the front of the picture is looking at us. She is not ashamed and absolutely calm. It seems that all people in the picture are engaged in their personal business and do not care about the others. What is particular about the picture is that the female nudity is not emphasized:

“In Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur L’herb, the female nudity appears unnoticed, and a kind of immobility reigns. Manet paints his nude woman in such a way that the eyes of the viewer are riveted to her gaze and figure” (Locke 37).

As opposed to the picture by Manet, Nymphs and Satyr by William-Adolphe Bouguereau is very different in style from other works by the author. The picture was created in 1873, ten years later than the work by Manet, on the edge of impressionism. The picture represents the academic art. Academic art focused on specific painting rules and techniques that were influenced by Neoclassical and Romantic traditions. Academic art was aimed at uniting those styles.

The artists focused on the use of light and lines as the same things. The hierarchy of genres was adopted by academic art, and thus, such genres as religious and mythological were considered to be “grade genre”. Major emphasis was made on the “female human body”. The painting by Bouguereau Nymphs and Satyr:

“Presents both the best and the worst of Academic art. It portrays a subject inspired by classical mythology with precise realism, meticulous details, and feigned emotion. Such content, along with its practice execution, was diametrically opposed to the work of artists poised at the birth of modern art” (Fichner-Rathus 281).

The picture seems to depict mythical personages that are having fun. However, looking more closely at the painting, we can notice that there is a sort of a “battle” on the bank of the river. The nymphs are standing firmly on the ground and they are playing with the Satyr, who is trying to resists the nymphs’ attempts to drag him into the river. Thus, the nymphs are in charge in this picture. According to Lafenestre:

“A glossy, creamy, waxy painting where one guesses at all kinds of ingenuities, where one finds the art of composition, well-ordered groups, motion, wit, and great suppleness of drawing, but which is cold in essence, empty and leaving but a faint impression on the mind.” (492).

It is the main feature of the Bouguereau’s painting. It depicts a mythical scene, interpretation of the Classical subject, and emphasizes the nudity of the female body. The artist depicted an idealized world while using the realistic style that was popular at the time. In this regard, the image exemplifies the artist’s style and the movement it represents.

Both pictures feature formal differences. Thus, the painting techniques and the usage of colors are different. The subjects of the pictures are also different, Manet depicted modern-life subject and William-Adolphe Bouguereau interpreted Classical theme. However, both pictures depict female nude body. Both authors tried to be realistic in presenting human body and motion. Both pictures seem to be “alive”. In addition, the authors used the play of light and line to mark out the lines of female figures.

Thus, women are more “bright” and attract the viewers’ eyes, at the same time, male figures are in shadow. Finally, both authors used rural scenery for their paintings. The pictures represent different movements (they are separated by ten years) and different styles, however, they are united by a common subject, female nude body that was common for the period.

Both pictures provide an insight into the époque when they were created. Both of them were unique and were attacked by contemporaries. However, they serve a great example of how the artist can express personal ideas using style that is strikingly different from the author’s personal style.

Both pictures were created on the border of two periods, romanticism and impressionism, they demonstrate painting techniques of both periods. Due to this particularity, the pictures made their creators popular. One can question the morality and ethics of the scenes depicted in both pictures, especially when they are painted so naturally without some “idolized manner” that was common for the period.

It can be suggested that in both pictures, the nudity of female figures is a challenge to the dominance of the dressed men. The conscious and calm face of the woman in Manet’s picture that looks at us without shame, and courage of nymphs in the William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s picture is the best evidence of this. The pictures present high interest to all interested in art of the 19th century, these are the most prominent works and widely accepted as masterpieces of the 19th century painting.

Works Cited

Fichner-Rathus, Lois. Foundations of Art and Design. London: Cengage Learning, 2011.

Lafenestre, Georges. “Salon de 1873.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 7.2 (1873).

Locke, Nancy. Manet and the Family Romance. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

“Manet’s Déjeuner sur L’herbe.” Impressionism & the Making of Modern Art. N. d. Web.

Rothwell, Lindsay. “Déjeuner sur l’herbe.” The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2007. Web.

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