PRINT September 1969

On “Manet’s Sources”

Michael Fried’s essay on “Manet’s Sources” (Artforum, March, 1969) is by far the most ambitious attempt that has been made to grasp the significance of Manet’s complex relationship to older art during the first half of the 1860s. It is at once a detailed investigation of specific pictures and critical writings, many of which had been neglected by previous students, and an original, boldly speculative synthesis of these data to produce a coherent account. But the very boldness and unconventionality of its views, the very independence of its concepts from all those previously employed, together with its assertive and somewhat condescending tone, will undoubtedly encourage most readers to accept it or reject it out of hand, without examining seriously its observations and arguments. Until such an examination is undertaken, however, no future study of this important subject will be able either to build upon or to ignore Fried’s essay with any confidence.


To establish the need for his “exhaustive interrogation” of Manet’s source. Fried begins by out lining the deficiencies in all previous contributions to the subject. The earlier ones emphasize Manet’s indifference to thematic invention and incapacity for formal invention as reasons for his reliance on past art; the more recent ones, his ambition to compete with, and even to identify with, the great artists he admired; but in both cases they “fail to account for what is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Manet’s borrowings, the literalness and obviousness with which he often quoted earlier paintings.” Although he later acknowledges that during Manet’s lifetime these references were, with few exceptions, neither recognized nor understood, Fried never questions his assumption that they were intended as such. For him Manet’s borrowings are always deliberate quotations, whether they resemble their sources in specific features or merely recall them stylistically, whether the latter are celebrated works likely to be recognized or old prints consulted in a library, and whether their significance for Manet is that of a masterpiece to be quoted, a model to be studied, or a document to be utilized. But when he consciously reproduces the pose and setting of Titian’s Venus of Urbino, which was thought to depict a Renaissance courtesan, in Olympia, his image of a modern courtesan; when he imitates the subtly transparent atmosphere of Velázquez’s Pablillos de Valladolid in the unified grey background of the Fifer and the Tragic Actor; and when he borrows specific motifs from Goya’s Tauromaquia prints as authentic details for the setting of Mlle. Victorine in the Costume of an Espada, is he not turning to older art with three distinctly different purposes in mind?

Furthermore, Fried does not consider whether the few instances in which Manet does seem to quote or allude to other works could, by definition, involve anything other than the specific references he finds so “puzzling, almost riddling”, or whether the allusion is intended as a public avowal of the analogy or a personal jeu d’esprit meaningful to a small circle; or finally, whether such quotations are so unusual in the history of European art as to warrant the assertion that Manet’s need of them was “a crucial difference between his enterprise and that of any painter before him.” When Reynolds portrays his sitters in attitudes borrowed from famous pictures by Holbein, Michelangelo, and Annibale Carracci, wittily playing on their relevance to his own subjects; when Ingres deliberately refers in his religious compositions to those of Raphael, and in his portraits to familiar examples of Greek sculpture or Roman painting, do they not reveal the same historical consciousness that informs Manet’s early work?1

Just as he begins with an exaggerated claim for the singularity of his subject, so Fried concludes with exaggerated claims for its importance. But when he asserts that “Manet made the past something that once again did not need to be dealt with, but which could be ignored, taken for granted, even forgotten,” does he mean that Monet and Pissarro, who had already rejected its relevance in the early 1860s, needed the sanction of or even understood the subtleties of, Manet’s “liquidation” of the past?2 And when he states that “no painter since Manet has been faced with the need to secure the connectedness of his art to that of the distant past,” does he mean that Gauguin did not strive to capture in his own work the look of Breton folk sculpture, Javanese temple reliefs, Egyptian-wall paintings, and the Parthenon frieze, to name but a few of his more “distant” sources, or that Cézanne was not summarizing a lifelong preoccupation with older art when he wrote in 1905, “In my opinion one does not substitute oneself for the past, one only adds to it a new link,” to cite but one instance of his concern with “connectedness”?3


If the form of Manet’s involvement with past art is for Fried always a direct quotation, its content is always art-historical, or rather, art-political: despite their diversity, older works are relevant not thematically or expressively, but as tokens of historical styles, and these are conceived not as personal achievements, but as symbols of national schools. With them Manet supposedly plays a complicated game of art-historical chess, “virtually every step of which must be understood in relation to every other.” Since he is presumed (without any documentary evidence) to be “intensely concerned with questions having to do with the natural genius of French painting,” his goal in this game is to establish the relation of his art to that of the “authentically French” tradition and, through the latter, to the art of foreign schools. He does this explicitly, within his paintings, by means of art-historical allusions. If, for example, one of the small boys in the Old Musician resembles a figure by Watteau, if the boy standing next to him resembles a figure by Velázquez, and if the group as a whole resembles a group by Louis Le Nain, then this “suggests that Manet deliberately exploited Le Nain’s motif of the two boys in order to present references to Velázquez and Watteau in friendly proximity to one another . . . because he wanted to acknowledge publicly the connection he, and perhaps no one else, knew to obtain between his work and theirs.” We shall see presently that the meaning of the Old Musician and its sources is of a different order entirely; but apart from that, can we believe that Manet’s mind worked this way, that he achieved the simplification of painting with which Matisse later credited him by calculating his moves in this way? Moreover, how can Fried reconcile his notion of “public acknowledgement” with the facts that the Watteau and the Velázquez were in private collections, one French, the other English, and that the Le Nain was neither available nor reproduced at the time nor even discussed in contemporary publications?4 Even if it were theoretically accessible in an old engraving, or had appeared in a recent exhibition or sale, as is often the case with the works which Fried claims that Manet and his audience knew, how can this be reconciled with his statement that “Manet always aimed to be comprehensible at least in principle, if not to the public at large, at any rate to a wider circle”?

In Fried’s account, Manet’s behavior is not merely calculating, it is often anxious and uncertain, dependent for “sanction” on the art of the past. Insofar as it describes a dilemma which Manet and other avant-garde artists faced—that of finding in the moral example of older art itself the confidence to react creatively against it, while facing hostile criticism and its own authoritarian view of tradition—Fried’s account is valuable. But insofar as it pictures Manet as a kind of intellectual refugee, “obsessed” with the need to “justify” and “secure,” rather than as one of the few personally secure figures in the modern movement, it is most unfortunate. Unable, in this view, to depict theatrical subjects simply because they are as congenial as the theater, the opera, and the public spectacles he so much enjoys, he must receive “sanction from the art of Watteau—in particular the sanction that this apparently less than fully serious class of subjects is in fact consistent with the highest artistic purposes and ambitions.” Even more calculating at times, he resorts to “the masking of Watteau sources by an ostensible Spanishness,” or, knowing somehow that Watteau studied the paintings in Crozat’s collection, he “deliberately turns to the engravings of the Recueil Crozat in search of sources for his own paintings.” After years of this behavior he flees to Spain, and on his return he seems to “feel free at last to seek out the artists and works of art that most attract him, without having to justify or secure those choices in his paintings themselves, and without having to fear that his paintings would lack the comprehensiveness or inclusiveness that evidently obsessed him prior to 1865.”

The emphasis on timing here is typical, for in Fried’s account of Manet’s strategy for securing access to the art of foreign schools, certain moves were absolutely prohibited before certain others. “Throughout 1861,” for example, “despite his attraction to Spanish painting, Manet was constrained to base his most ambitious pictures on Flemish sources,” because he had not yet “secured access” to Spanish painting as a whole. Similarly, “the absence of Italian sources between late 1858 (if not before)5 and late 1862 was the result of deliberate abstention,” whereas in 1864 “it would not have been uncharacteristic for Manet to have turned to Veronese, whose art was now available to him,” thanks to the access he had secured in 1863. Apart from their sheer implausibility, statements such as these are demonstrably incorrect. Indeed, Fried himself suggests that “Veronese’s Finding of Moses . . . perhaps lies behind Manet’s attempts to paint such a subject in 1861,” and that his Fishing at Saint-Ouen, also of 1861, “contains a rather general allusion, if it is as much as that, to Carracci.” Moreover, the Boy Carrying a Tray, which Manet drew and etched several times in 1860–62, is obviously based on Titian’s popular picture of a Girl with a Fruit Dish and may even allude to it, since the latter was thought to represent Titian’s daughter, while the boy who posed for Manet is thought to be his son.6 In the same way, Fried’s complicated explanation of Manet’s “apparent reluctance or inability to refer explicitly to Dutch sources in his paintings of the first half of the sixties” is contradicted by the simple fact that in 1860 he did just that in the Portrait of the Artist’s Parents. The figure of his father, far from being based on one of Louis Le Nain’s peasants drinking—an association which may well have disturbed Manet’s haut-bourgeois father—clearly depends for its conception of the elderly, bearded figure, wearing a tall cap and gazing downward with a troubled expression in his deeply shaded eyes, on Rembrandt’s etching A Bearded Man in a Furred Oriental Cap, which was then considered, appropriately, a portrait of Rembrandt’s father.7

A somewhat different problem arises concerning Fried’s thesis that the absence of popular and critical attention to Japanese prints in the first half of the 1860s “absolutely prevented” Manet from making the “kind of acknowledgement of the importance of Japanese art to his work that he later made in the Portrait of Emile Zola and the Balcony.” For in the latter this acknowledgement supposedly consists in portraying the woman who stands at the right in a somewhat Japanese guise, and although Fried declares his disagreement with Sandblad’s discussion of the influence of Japanese prints, precisely the same point is made there about the Street Singer, a work of 1862: “Manet has been quite skillful in discovering and bringing out a geisha quality in Victorine Meurend,” etc.8


Unfortunately, this is not the only case in which Fried, who quotes extensively from the literature on Manet, overlooks suggestions found there as to other sources of his art. He refers several times to an article by De Leiris whose main point is that Manet drew on an antique statue of Chrysippos for the principal figure in the Old Musician,9 yet he never mentions this point, perhaps because it would conflict with the Le Nain-Watteau-Velázquez thesis discussed earlier. Again, he refers with approval to several sources proposed in Florisoone’s book, but ignores one of the most interesting of them, Mantegna’s Dead Christ with Angels as a source for Manet’s picture of the same subject,10 and chooses instead to derive the latter from a work by Veronese which it resembles less closely. Or, again, he cites Bazin’s article tracing the several versions of Manet’s Polichinelle to Watteau’s small panel L’lndifférent, adds that their debt to it is “unmixed with allusions to the work of other painters,” but ignores Dorival’s convincing demonstration of their dependence on Meissonier’s popular painting of Polichinelle,11 perhaps because the connection with Watteau is important for another part of his argument. Or, finally, he repeats the familiar observation that Manet’s Dead Toreador was inspired by a picture formerly attributed to Velázquez, adds unconvincingly that it should also be seen as “a kind of reworking, with the help of that painting,” of a figure in Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa, but says nothing about Ackerman’s discovery that it closely resembles Gérôme’s widely acclaimed Dead Caesar.”12

If we add to the Meissonier and the Gerome several other cases in which Fried overlooks 19th century sources of Manet’s art already discussed in the literature, whether they are in the art of major, figures, e.g., the influence of Couture’s technique on the Absinthe Drinker, of Ingres’ draftsmanship on Olympia, of Daumier’s imagery on Lola de Valence, or in the popular art of posters, illustrated books, and newspapers, e.g., the relevance of theatre prints, Les Français Peints par Eux-Mêmes, and L’illustration to several of his paintings and prints of the 1860s, 13 we discover that Fried largely ignores the conservative and popular aspects of Manet’s artistic heritage. He does discuss the possible influence of a lithograph by Devéria (about which more presently) and of prints after Nadar and Janet-Lange, but his emphasis falls heavily on a few great names—David, Géricault, and Courbet—just as it does in his treatment of Manet’s contacts with 16th and 17th century art. It is almost as if a canon of esthetic taste, a fairly exclusive taste, rather than of historical fact were the determining principle.


Like the most familiar art styles of Manet’s time, the times themselves, their memorable events and popular types, play a minor role in Fried’s “account of Manet’s mind.” This is already evident in his discussion of the Old Musician, the first work he examines in detail and the one which provides him with “a kind of key to understanding Manet’s involvement with the art of the past generally.” As we have seen, the two boys in it manifest this involvement by signifying “Velázquez and Watteau in friendly proximity to one another.” The other figures, supposedly based on a picture by Louis Le Nain, manifest it too by signifying the realistic art of the Le Nain; hence they are “a kind of declaration that Manet conceived of his art as essentially realist in intent” and “an invitation to compare his work with that of the great painter of the preceding generation, Gustave Courbet.” Thus Manet’s “realist intent” is subtly converted into an art-historical intent and the most commonplace motifs are seen as deliberate allusions to Courbet. If there is a rowboat in a picnic scene by Manet and if, not unexpectedly, there is also one in a similar scene by Courbet, then “Manet’s gratuitous quotation of Courbet’s rowboat was intended to make the connection between the two paintings even more explicit than it already was,” Similarly, if there is a violinist in a picture by Courbet and also one in a picture by Louis le Nain, then Manet’s “decision to make one of his figures [in the Old Musician] a violinist seems to relate simultaneously to Courbet and Le Nain.” The method is of course typical, but its application seems particularly inappropriate in this section on Realistic art. That is a pity, because Fried’s definition of Manet’s attempt to distinguish his form of Realism from that of Champfleury and Courbet is original and illuminating. In relation to their common admiration for the Le Nain, however, it seems misplaced, for it follows directly a discussion of that admiration in which Fried quotes Champfleury’s statement that “they were full of compassion for the poor, . . . that they were not afraid of low subject matter,” etc., without. realizing that precisely this type of subject matter is what Manet represents in the Old Musician or that it is the ground of his involvement with the Le Nain.

The best witnesses to the contemporary significance of this subject matter are in fact the Realist writers around Champfleury, who were also responsible for the revival of the Le Nain in the 1850s. In a book on the picturesque and poignant aspects of Parisian street life, Victor Fournel depicts the very types whom we encounter in the Old Musician: the quack doctor or hawker of remedies “wearing a Turkish robe,” the street urchins prematurely aged by hardship, “their faces twenty years old in expression, audacity, and understanding of life,” and the itinerant musician himself.14 Indeed, Fournel’s description of such a figure is strikingly similar to Manet’s: “I saw a handsome old man with a long white beard, of tall and strong stature . . . He gently raised his head and directed toward me the humble look of his pale, resigned eyes.” In a similar book published in 1861, Champfleury too portrays an old mendicant, in this case a “philosophical ragpicker,” who was “always surrounded by neighborhood children, whom he instructed by his own methods.”15 This admiration for the naive wisdom of the poor, a familiar theme in Realist writings, also informs Fournel’s observation that “the itinerant musician is a philosopher: he knows thoroughly the vanity of worldly glories.”16 Hence Manet’s decision to base his old musician on a statue of the Stoic philosopher Chrysippos has an iconographic as well as a formal significance.

So does his source in the le Nain, but in order to appreciate this we must determine which of their pictures he actually used. Fried insists it was Louis Le Nain’s Halte du Cavalier, which “obviously determined . . . both specific figures in the Old Musician and its arrangement in general,” even though “it is not clear how Manet came to see any of the known versions.” Yet neither their whereabouts nor prints after them are listed in contemporary publications on the Le Nain. Whereas they do discuss, reproduce, and cite reproductions of a picture which is more likely to have been Manet’s source, since almost all of its figures correspond in their positions and postures to those in the Old Musician; namely, Antoine Le Nain’s Old Piper17 Spiritually too the two paintings are linked, for the very qualities of gravity and naive wisdom that contemporary writers considered characteristic of the street musician and urchins whom Manet represents are also singled out in their descriptions of the Old Piper. Thus, Charles Blanc comments on the “concentration in the pensive faces of the little girls” and the “character in those of the little boys, who . . . have expressions as strongly marked as men’s.”18 And Champfleury observes, appropriately, that the old piper himself “has the air of a philosopher of antiquity.”19

In this context, Manet’s later reference to the Absinthe Drinker, which he reproduces at the right of the Old Musician, as one of “four philosophers” he has painted takes on added significance. Fried quotes this remark, notes also that the Absinthe Drinker is partly inspired by Velasquez’s famous pictures of Aesop and Menippus, but says nothing about the other three “philosopher” and the light they shed on the meaning of beggar-philosophers for Manet and Realism in general. Yet the fact that these three, although painted several years later than the Absinthe Drinker and the Old Musician, depict a similar social type, about whom Champfleury, Fournel, and others write at great length, confirms the importance of these marginal and bohemian elements in contemporary life for Manet’s conception of Realism. We know of his fascination with such types, whom he also depicts in other early paintings and prints, from statements reported by his friend Proust.20 Of the Absinthe Drinker, Manet says, “I have painted a Parisian type, studied in Paris, while putting into its execution the simplicity of technique I found in Velázquez’s painting.” And of their trip to Holland, Proust reports that Manet was so impressed by the vivid realism of Hals that, “back again in Paris, he decided to take up frankly the various aspects of Parisian life.” Ironically, Fried quotes these statements, but sees in them only their references to older art.

Even when he does investigate “aspects of Parisian life” which are directly relevant to given works by Manet, Fried ultimately interprets them in familiar art-political terms. He presents some interesting information on the social and intellectual milieu in which Manet’s frontispiece etchings were created in 1862, particularly on the marionette theatre set up in the Tuileries gardens by Duranty the year before and on ‘the prints by Nadar and Legros connected with it. Having argued—unconvincingly, as we shall see—that both of Manet’s etchings “relate” to this theatre, Fried then asks why they deliberately “refer” to it. His rather evasively worded answer is that “those references are only somewhat less than explicit acknowledgements of his prior involvement with Watteau, the Commedia dell’Arte and theatrical subject matter generally.” Although obviously useful for Fried’s thesis about the importance of Watteau for Manet, this statement ignores the long tradition of pictorial representation of the Commedia dell’Arte both before and after Watteau. In fact, the frontispiece to Callot’s Balli di Sfessania, which was readily available to Manet and directly relevant in theme,21 may well have inspired the motif of an actor peering out from behind a theatre curtain in his Second Frontispiece. Moreover, in stating that “Duranty’s project was the latest in a succession of ventures whose aim was to revive the theatrical conventions of the 18th century,” Fried overlooks the essentially Realistic character of Duranty’s pantomimes. Like those of Champfleury a decade earlier, they minimize the traditional supernatural motifs, while satirizing contemporary vices in the guise of timeless ones; and in their use of an art form associated with children and the uneducated poor, they reflect the Realists’ fascination with popular art in general.22 This is also the significance of the interesting material on Champfleury, Courbet, Desnoyers, and Legros that Fried himself presents and of the text by Duranty on the naïveté of the puppet theatre that he quotes.

Even more remarkable is Fried’s avoidance of the historical context in dealing with so explicitly topical a painting as The Kearsarge and the Alabama, the record of a battle between vessels of the Union and Confederate navies which Manet witnessed near Cherbourg in June, 1864. Far from acknowledging its intense interest for Manet, who actually had himself rowed out toward the fighting vessels, and who may well have been stirred by memories of his own apprenticeship as a sailor, Fried sees this subject as “essentially theatrical” and as providing “the opportunity to establish an approximate formal equivalent for the Raft of the Medusa’s basis in an actual disaster at sea.”


That this preoccupation with “formal equivalents” can lead Fried to suggest sources which are thematically inappropriate to Manet’s paintings, we have already seen in his discussion of the Portrait of the Artist’s Parents. It is also evident in his placement of The Gypsies, a scene of bohemian genre, between Louis Le Nain’s image of Christian devotion, The Nativity of the Virgin, and Rubens’ image of pagan vulgarity, Bacchus, a grouping which is iconographically rather bizarre. When Fried does acknowledge such incongruities, it is only in order to discover in them a deeper significance. Convinced that “the soldier holding what seems to be a spread cloak behind Christ” in Manet’s Christ Scourged “is based on the angel warming a piece of the infant Mary’s linen in the Nativity of the Virgin by Le Nain,” but evidently disturbed by the latter’s inappropriateness, he speculates that “Manet’s obviously deliberate use of a French angel as the basis for one of Christ’s tormentors suggests that blasphemy of some explicit sort was on his mind: perhaps he was expressing in advance his defiance of the French public,” etc. This is of course as incorrect as it is ingenious, not only because Manet, a practicing Catholic and an artist deeply interested in religious themes, would hardly have conceived such a blasphemy, but because the soldier placing the robe of kingship mockingly on Christ’s shoulders is a familiar motif in earlier representations of the Ecce Homo; these include pictures by Rubens and Guercino and one attributed to Van Dyck, whose Christ Crowned with Thorns is the major source for Manet’s composition as a whole.23 A more extreme example of Fried’s discovery of a hidden meaning in an iconographically meaningless comparison occurs in his discussion of the Luncheon in the Studio. In this tranquil genre scene, one of the most serene in Manet’s oeuvre, he sees “certain more or less obvious affinities” to two Neo-Classical pictures of death and despair, David’s Andromache Mourning Hector and Guérin’s Return of Marcus Sextus. Although these “affinities” consist in nothing more than a still life of arms in one case and a similarly posed figure in the other, Fried wonders what the relation of Manet’s picture is to “the theme of domestic tragedy” in the other two, adding somewhat darkly that his presumed son, the central figure in the Luncheon, was born “more than ten years before Manet was able to marry the boy’s mother.” He might also have added that this occurred six years before the picture was painted, and that both earlier and later Manet portrayed the same boy in a consistently untragic manner.

Speculations such as those just discussed are incorrect in method as well as in substance, for they are isolated intuitions, unsupported by a general understanding of the subject mailer of Manet’s borrowing and its relation to his own. Such an understanding would in fact not support them, since the uncontestable examples of his borrowing show that Manet preserves in his own image not only the content and spirit, but many significant details of the image he refers to, whether this reference is a public quotation, a personal allusion, or a mailer of documentation. This is one reason—we shall see others presently—why Fried’s derivation of the Absinthe Drinker, a Romantic image of dissolution and gloom, from Watteau’s L’Indifférent, an image of Rococo elegance and charm, is so unconvincing, and why his derivation of Mlle. Victorine in the Costume of an Espada from a rather strange hybrid, Rubens’ Venus or Fortune and Velasquez’s equestrian portrait of the Conde de Olivares, is so unfortunate. Even in his generally useful discussion of Manet’s frontispiece etchings, Fried over looks their manifest content in order to emphasize an esoteric symbolism which reinforces his Watteau thesis. Whereas the Second Frontispiece does depict Polichinelle and his theatre, the First Frontispiece, simply because it shows a cat like the one who accompanies him in contemporary images of that theatre, need not do so at all. What it actually represents is an interior, perhaps the artist’s studio, with a portfolio of his prints standing in a trestle; if “the cat alone now stands for Polichinelle, and the Commedia dell’Arte generally, in a simplified and highly symbolic image,” Fried fails to show how. Even the Second Frontispiece is not linked as exclusively to the puppet theatre as Fried pretends, for the sword, the sombrero, the guitar, and the toreador’s clothing in the basket are properties used in Manet’s paintings and etchings of Spanish subjects in these years.24 In fact, most of the etchings which the frontispieces were designed to introduce are of Spanish subjects; ironically, Fried does not mention this, but writes nevertheless of “works as special, as likely to summarize essential themes, as prospective frontispieces.”


Utimately, many of the sources Fried proposes are unacceptable not because of their thematic incongruity with Manet’s paintings, but because they are unconvincing visually: the paintings and their “sources” simply do not look alike. When he relates Manet’s Woman Playing a Guitar to Watteau’s La Finette, we are persuaded that one may have influenced the other, since they share a number of essential features and even depict the same subject. But when he singles out insignificant details as evidence, while ignoring fundamental differences in form, movement, color, and light, we are not at all persuaded. Is the Absinthe Drinker, a morose, heavily inert figure painted in somber tones of grey, brown, and black, “inconceivable except on the basis of” Watteau’s L’Indifférent, a slender, gaily dancing figure painted in luminous tones of pink, blue, and white, simply because of “the odd, almost dance-like formality and elegance of the pose”? And is the male figure in the Portrait of the Artist’s Parents “inspired by” a figure in Louis Le Nain’s Repas de Paysans simply because both are shown with a “clenched fist,” even though they are otherwise engaged in different actions, placed in different positions, seen in a different light, and rendered in different colors? A similar indifference to color leads Fried to the erroneous conclusion that the still-life elements in the Luncheon in the Studio “allude unmistakably to Chardin (cf. La Raie dépouillée),” wheareas Manet’s use of cool grey, brown, and white with bright yellow accents is far closer to the coloring in still lifes by Claesz and Heda than it is to the predominantly warm brown and pink tones in this one by Chardin.25 It is in fact remarkable that in the fifty pages of Fried’s essay there are only three references to color, two of them trivial and the third incorrect: the “light, almost blonde tonality” of the Old Musician can hardly be called “characteristically . . . Spanish in feeling.”

On the visual level, as on the thematic, what we miss in Fried’s assertions is an awareness of the general relation between Manet’s borrowings and his sources, a controlling principle based on all the uncontestable examples and, in this case, on his practice as a copyist. “There are, after all, generally accepted paradigms of influence,” Fried observes rather loftily, but he never attempts to define or apply them, pretending instead that Manet’s relation to past art stands outside history. If we make that attempt, we find that Manet, both in copying entire compositions and in borrowing individual motifs, always preserves their essential features, even when he simplifies the tonal structure, eliminates surface details, or modifies the pose or glance for expressive purposes. When, for example, he transforms the natural sensuality of Titian’s Venus of Urbino into the tense and artificial nakedness of Olympia, or converts the classical poise of the river gods and nymph in Raphael’s Judgment of Paris into the stiff self-consciousness of the modern Parisians in the Luncheon on the Grass, by means of subtle changes in posture, proportion, costume, and glance, he not only retains the larger aspects of his models, but makes his modifications meaningful in relation to them. This is why Fried’s suggestion that Manet adapted the pose of the bathing woman in the background of the Luncheon from Watteau’s La Villageoise is so unconvincing, however useful it may be for his thesis that “Watteau’s art presides over the conception of the Déjeuner as a whole. A source much closer to Manet’s figure visually, and more compatible with the other figures source historically, is Raphael’s tapestry cartoon The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, where the stooping figure of St. John is virtually identical in posture, silhouette, and turn of the head.26 A celebrated, widely reproduced work, it was not only available to Manet, but evidently also inspired the stooping figure, this time a fisherman like Raphael’s, in his earlier picture Fishing at Saint-Ouen and the study for it. Thematically, however, there is no apparent connection between Manet’s bathing woman and Raphael’s apostle.

Just as he emphasizes here the significance of Watteau by minimizing that of Raphael, so in discussing Mlle. Victorine in the Costume of an Espada Fried insists that its “explicit theatricality . . . would have been inconceivable without the prior example of Watteau,” but overlooks an obvious Italian source. Although Manet has at this time not yet “secured access” to Italian art, he clearly bases the figure of Victorine on that of Titian’s Girl with a Fruit Dish, perhaps also on that of his own Boy Carrying a Tray, which in turn is based on the Titian. The similarities in posture, movement, and relation to the spectator are indeed so striking that Fried’s further suggestions—that “the lower portion of Victorine’s body, and the initial idea for the cape which she holds in her left hand,” come from a Venus or Fortune by Rubens, and that “the upper portion of Victorine’s body, in particular the pose of the head and right arm,” come from Velázquez’s equestrian portrait of the Conde de Olivares—seem entirely unnecessary. If there is an additional source for this figure, it is the very print in Goya’s Tauromaquia series that Fried himself cites in relation to the background, for it too shows a toreador holding a cape in one hand and a sword in the other.26a

Unfortunately, the strange hybrid which Fried imagines Manet to have produced here by combining fragments of prints, in a rather Surrealist manner, is not the only instance of implausibility in his account of Manet’s working methods. He also states that in the Dead Christ with Angels Manet conjoins an engraving after Veronese’s Descent from the Cross with a detail from Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa, since “the left arm and hand of the youthful corpse [in the latter] and the arms and hands of Manet’s Christ” are very similar. And in a tour de force of improbability, he writes of the girl at the left in the Old Musician: “I am convinced that Manet took the figure of the girl who stands facing us in La Halte du Cavalier; turned her sideways on the basis of the two girls in profile in Les Moissonneurs; turned her face somewhat further away from us, until it was a Watteau-like profile perdu; and based some of the details of that profile perdu on the kneeling figure in Velázquez’s Drinkers.” Besides offending common sense, this account fails to acknowledge the obvious fact that Manet, whatever paintings he may have had in mind, had an urchin girl before his eyes. In enlarging the role of artistic models in Manet’s creative process, Fried reduces that of live models, and of nature generally, to the point where he can dismiss Castagnary, a champion of Naturalism, with a comment on “the simple falseness of his claim that paintings are not made with paintings.” Convinced of the supremacy of artistic models, he finds them almost everywhere; even the cat in Olympia has a source, or rather, three sources: a lithograph by Legros, an etching by him, and a painting by Chardin. We may well ask how many sources Manet can use, or even allude to, in painting a cat, especially since his drawings and prints show that he can do so superbly from nature. Typically, Fried’s answer converts this potential defeat into a triumph by sheer fiat: “Manet often deliberately overdetermined individual motifs and even whole paintings by not just conjoining but superimposing references to previous works.”


In an essay on Manet’s art which stresses tradition rather than nature, and conception rather than vision, it is not surprising to find many statements that depend primarily on verbal instead of visual evidence.27 Since the Luncheon on the Grass was originally entitled Le Bain, since this in turn directs attention to the bathing woman in the background, and since she in turn is supposedly based on a painting by Watteau, then “Manet’s use of La Villageoise, especially in conjunction with the original title of the painting, is evidence for the suggestion that Watteau’s art presides over the conception of the Déjeuner as a whole.” Again, if Mlle. Victorine in the Costume of an Espada was described as “a victorious woman in a circus,” and if the sketch by Rubens on which it is supposedly based was described as a study for a Triumph of Venus, then it is “possible that Manet not only used Rubens’ painting as one of the sources for his own picture, but was deliberately playing on Victorine Meurend’s name (or initial) as well.” Or, again, since the Dead Christ with Angels was called “Christ resuscitating succoured by angels,” in a letter by Baudelaire, and since the painting by David to which it is presumably related was often called Marat Dying, then “Manet may have conceived of his picture as recreating, and in a sense transcending . . . David’s . . . supreme image of physical death.” Since Fried goes on to explain that the relation to David, although “implicit and essentially conceptual,” may at one stage “have been acknowledged by Manet’s title itself,” it should be pointed out that his original plan, as he indicated to the Abbé Hurel in 1863, was to paint “a dead Christ with angels,” and that his definitive title, as he listed it in the catalog of his 1867 exhibition, was The Dead Christ and Angels.28

By far the most elaborate example of this weaving together of loosely related strands of imagery and text is Fried’s discussion of Olympia, which contains two interlocking arguments. First, if Manet’s early studies for this composition closely resemble an erotic print by Achille Devéria, and if Proust reports that Manet was friendly with Eugene Devéria some ten years earlier, then “this early friendship was a factor in Manet’s later use of the work of Achille Devéria for the first conception of the Olympia.” Second, if Baudelaire praised Achille Devéria’s erotic lithographs in his Salon of 1845, and if Manet and Baudelaire were close friends in the early 1860s, then “it is perhaps not accidental that Manet turned to Achille Devéria for the initial conception of the painting which, more than any other, critics and historians have tended to describe as Baudelairean.” Apart from its faulty reasoning, Fried’s ingenious at tempt to make Devéria’s Rococo-revival print the principal source for Olympia presents two further difficulties. First of all, this print shows the figure reversed from the way it appears in Manet’s drawings, whereas another lithograph, identical with it in every respect but drawn by Henri Decaisne, one of Devéria’s contemporaries, shows the figure facing the way it does in Manet’s drawings, and is therefore a more likely source for them.29 Second, and more important, regardless of which print Manet relied on, and of its place in the Romantic revival of the Rococo, it is hardly fair to conclude, as Fried does, that “the Olympia, whose first conception was, it seems, based on just such a Romantic source, ought also to be seen in relation to” that revival. For it is precisely the extent to which it transcends the trivial eroticism of the initial conception and, with the help of Titian’s Venus of Urbina, achieves a greater formal and expressive power, that makes Olympia the brilliant image it is.30


The reliance on purely literary evidence in the passages just discussed is characteristic of a much more extensive use of contemporary criticism and art history throughout Fried’s essay. Insofar as it identifies that criticism as an important factor in defining the intellectual background of Manet’s art, rather than as a sequence of isolated, more or less sympathetic, attempts to judge it, this is a valuable contribution, and one that also sheds light on the art history and theory of the period. But insofar as it endows these writings with a greater importance than Manet’s own talent in the shaping of his art, and ultimately sees the latter as a kind of illustration. Of them, Fried’s thesis is both unjust and untenable. In expounding it, he begins cautiously and gradually becomes more categorical, as is evident in his remarks on Manet and the art historian and critic Thoré, At first he sees the latter’s writings as an encouragement or confirmation, although a crucial one: “I regard it as questionable whether without Thoré’s sanction Manet would have acknowledged publicly his involvement with Watteau and have declared publicly his commitment to realism in the same painting,” as he presumably did in the Old Musician. Later he is prepared to assert, in explaining Manet’s supposed reluctance to borrow from Dutch sources, that “There’s vision of Dutch painting, as at once intensely national and essentially realistic, in effect made it unnecessary for Manet to refer to specific Dutch painters and paintings in his own art.” And at the end he seems actually to reverse their roles, making Manet’s art an illustration of Thoré’s art history: “At the very least, it seems true to say that paintings such as those [by Manet] just cited constitute a kind of fruition both of Thoré’s historical labors and of the aspirations towards a universal history of art in which these labors were grounded.” However, this is not all, for if Thoré’s art history provided Manet with an intellectual program and a universal outlook, Michelet’s political history provided him with even more essential elements, a “depth of conviction in his work” and a sense of revolutionary greatness: “The very least that must be said is that without Michelet’s vision of France, Manet’s paintings of the first half of the sixties would have been radically, unimaginably different. And it is not at all certain that they would have been as great, or for that mailer as revolutionary, as they have proved to be.”

Reading these extraordinary assertions, we naturally assume that there is abundant evidence that Manet was either intimately acquainted with Thoré and Michelet or had studied their writings thoroughly. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Fried himself admits, “There is no evidence that the young Manet read Le Peuple or other works by Michelet of roughly the same moment.” As for Thoré, who supposedly conveyed Michelet’s ideas to Manet along with his own, there is no indication that the latter read any of his writings or that they ever met before 1865.31 Moreover, as the passages quoted by Fried make clear, Thoré’s published judgments of the pictures Manet exhibited before that date were often unsympathetic, even critical; and far from understanding his subtle involvement with the art of the past, Thoré saw it as “artistically and socially retrograde.” Significantly, the same is true of Chesneau and Castagnary, two other critics whose writings Fried quotes extensively as evidence of attitudes supposedly shared by Manet.32 On the other hand, although he himself shows that Manet was friendly with Baudelaire and Duranty in this period, he cites their works only once, the former’s in connection with the Devéria lithograph, the latter’s with the Théâtre de Polichinelle; and those of Zola, who was closer to Manet in the mid sixties than any other writer, he simply ignores. This leaves Astruc as the only critic with whom Manet was definitely acquainted and whose ideas Fried also discusses at any length; but if his image of Astruc as a spokesman for Manet’s generation c. 1860 is an attractive one it hardly provides a broad enough base for the towering theory he builds.

Apart from its relevance to the historical situation, this theory has a familiar ring: where have we encountered before this extraordinary emphasis on the role a critic plays in the development of an artist? Then we recall what Fried has written elsewhere about the “formal criticism of modernist painting,” by which he means of course his own type of criticism and painting that begins precisely with Manet: “Criticism that shares the basic premises of modernist painting can play a role in its development only somewhat less important than that of new paintings themselves. Not only ought the formal critic to expound the significance of new painting . . . he is even justified in calling the attention of modernist painters to formal issues that, in his opinion, demand to be grappled with.”33 Is it not apparent that he has claimed for Astruc, Chesneau, and There the responsibilities and privileges that he would claim for formal critics like himself? But then, is it not apparent throughout his essay that he has claimed for Manet’s art of the 1860s the ambitions and attitudes that he would claim for modernist art one hundred years later?

Dr. Theodore Reff is professor of art history at Columbia.


1. See E. Wind, “‘Borrowed Altitudes’ in Reynolds and Hogarth,” Journal of the Warburg Institute, III, 1938-39, pp. 182-185; and R. Rosenblum, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingrès, New York, 1968, pp. 9-11 et passim.

2. For a survey of avant-garde attitudes to the past c. 1860, see T. Reff, “Copyists in the Louvre, 1850-1870,” Art Bulletin, XLVI, 1964, pp. 552-553.

3. See R. Field, “Plagiare au créateur,” Gauguin (Coll. Génies et Réalités), Paris, 1961, pp. 139-165; and P. Cézanne, Correspondance, ed. J. Rewald, Paris, 1937, p. 273.

4. See G. C. Feller, A Study of the Sources lor Manet’s “The Old Musician,” unpublished M.A. thesis, Columbia University, 1966, p. 21. Champfleury (J. Husson)Les Frères Le Nain, Paris, 1862, pp. 159 and 172-173, merely quotes descriptions of it from old sales catalogs.

5. Which works datable before 1858 can Fried have in mind? Surely not the many copies after Filippino Lippi, Titian, and Tintoretto.

6. See H. Tietze, Titian, New York, 1950, p. 366 and fig. 219. The woodcut reproduced here is from C. Blanc, Histoire des peintres, École vénitienne, Paris, 1868, “Titien Vecelli,” p. 15 (published separately by 1855); evidently the engraver has misrepresented the fruit as a jewel box.

7. See L. Münz, Rembrandt’s Etchings, London, 1952, No. 46, also No. 39. Moreover, Manet’s etched portraits of his father are clearly influenced by Rembrandt’s style.

8. N. G. Sandblad, Manet: Three Studies in Artistic Conception, Lund, 1954, p. 82.

9. A. De Leiris, Manet, Guérault and Chrysippos,” Art Bulletin, XLVI, 1964, pp. 401-404.

10. M. Florisoone, Manet, Monaco, 1947, p. xv and p. xxxi, note 6. Cf. E. Tietze-Conrat, Mantegna, New York, 1955, pp. 180-181 and p. 134.

11. B. Dorival, “Meissonier et Manet;” Art de France, II, 1962, pp, 222-226. Meissonier’s pictures of Polichinelle were warmly praised by Manet’s friend Théodore Duret in Les Peintres francais en 1867, Paris, 1867, pp. 67-69.

12. G. M. Ackerman, “Gérôme and Manet,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, LXX, 1967, pp. 163-176; however, the other connections suggested are less convincing.

13. See, respectively, I. Alazard, “Manet et Couture,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts XXXV, 1949, pp. 213-218; F. Mathey, Olympia: Manet, Paris, 1948; J. Richardson, Édouard Manet, New York, 1958, p.14 (referring to Delteil, Daumier, No. 2907, but cf. also Nos. 2897 and 2903); A. C. Hanson, Edouard. Manet, Philadelphia, 1966, pp. 65-67 and 43-45; and Sandblad, op. cit. , pp . 48- 53 and 125-136.

14. V. Fournel, Ce qu’on voit dans les rues de Paris, Paris, 1858, pp, 66, 331-332, and 37-38; quoted in Feller, op. cit., pp, 15-17.

15. Champfleury (J. Husson), La Mascerade de la vie parisienne, Paris, 1861, p. 69; quoted in ibid, pp. 16-17._

16. Fournel, op cit., p. 10; quoted in ibid., p. 38.

17. Ibid., pp. 22-25. The woodcut reproduced here is from Champfleury [J. Husson], Les Enfants, Paris, 1873, p. 91.

18. C. Blanc, Histoire des peintres, École française, Paris, 1862, “Les Frères le Nain,” p. 6; quoted in Feller, op. cit., p. 25.

19. Champfleury (J. Husson), Essai sur la vie et l’oeuvre des Le Nain, Laon, 1850. p. 31; quoted in ibid, p.37.

20. Both statements are from A. Proust, “L’Art d’Edouard Maner,” Le Studio), XXI, 1901, p.72; quoted in Fried’s essay pp. 33 and 59. His discovery of this neglected source is a distinct contribution.

21. The woodcut reproduced here is from Blanc, Ecole française, “Jacques Callot,” p. 1 (published separately by 1853).

22. See E. Bouvier, La Bataille Réaliste, Paris, 1913, pp, 144-160; M. Crouzet, Un Méconnu du Réalisme: Duranty, Paris, 1964, pp. 162-163; and M. Schapiro, “Courbet and Popular Imagery,” Journal of the Warburg Institute, IV, 1940-41, p. 176.

23. See, respectively, M. Rooses, L’Oeuvre de P. P. Rubens, Antwerp, 1886ff., II, pp. 59-61; G. Pacchioni, La Regia Pinscotecadi Torino, Rome, 1932, p.17 (Alinari Photo No. 14808); and E. Schaeffer, Van Dyck, Stuttgart. 1909, p.442.

24. See T. Reff, “The Symbolism of Manet’s Frontispiece Etchings,” Burlington Magazine, CIV, 1962, p. 183.

25. See I. Bergström, Dutch Still-Life Painting in the Seventeenth Century, London, n.d., Chap. III.

26. See O. Fischel, Raphael, London, 1948, I, pp. 259-261 and II, pls. 250 and 262. This observation was made independently by Prof. George Mauner.

26a. See E. Lafuente Ferrari, Goya, His Complete Etchings, New York, 1962, p. 199.

27. Some statements are also inaccurate visually. In the Concert in the Tuileries, Champfleury is not “portrayed sealed and in conversation with several women in the right-hand portion”: the only male figure sealed there is not in conversation with anyone, and has been positively identified as Offenbach. In the Old Musician, an “interplay of figures” is not “completely absent”: two of them, the dark-haired boy and the absinthe drinker, look toward the old musician. In Velázquez’s Drinkers and Le Nain’s Halte du Cavalier, “several of the figures” do not “stare directly at the beholder”: only two of them do. In Manet’s oeuvre, there are “large multifigure compositions . . . in which more than one of those figures looks out at us,” and Fried reproduces two of them: the Concert in the Tuileries and the Spanish Ballet.

28. See M. Tabarant, Manet et ses oeuvres, Paris, 1947, pp. 80 and 136.

29. See H. Beraldi, Les Graveurs du xixe siècle, Paris, 1885ff., X, p. 215, an “Odalisque” by Léon Noël after Decaisne; reproduced here from the print in Bibl. Nat., Za. 133, pet. fol.

30. See T. Reff, “The Meaning of Manet’s Olympia,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, LXIII, 1964, pp. 116-117.

31. See Tabarant, op. cit., Index des faits et des noms, s.v. “Thoré.”

32. Ibid., s.v. “Chesneau” and “Castagnary.”

33. M. Fried, “Modernist Painting and Formal Criticism,” American Scholar, XXXIII, 1964, p. 648.