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Svetlana Alpers

WHEN ART HISTORIANS SVETLANA ALPERS AND CAROL ARMSTRONG VISITED “MANET AT THE PRADO,” A SURVEY OF THE EARLY MODERNIST’S PAINTINGS AND PRINTS WITH SPANISH INFLUENCES, THEY DECIDED THE EXHIBITION WAS NOT ONLY AMONG THE BEST OF 2004, BUT AMONG THE BEST THEY HAD EVER SEEN. DEMANDING OF ITS AUDIENCES THE SAME PILGRIMAGE TO THE MUSEUM THAT MANET HIMSELF MADE OVER A CENTURY BEFORE, CURATOR MANUELA B. MENA MARQUÉS’S ENSCONCING OF THE ARTIST AMONG HIS FORBEARS PROVED A POWERFUL COUNTERPOINT TO A CONTEMPORARY ART WORLD DEFINED BY SPEED, AHISTORICISM, AND IMMATERIALITY—AN ART WORLD THAT MAY ASK, “WHY MANET?”

The recent surge of interest in Manet and Velázquez bodes well for painting. The international “Manet/Velázquez” exhibition that toured in 2002–2003 had two venues and two incarnations. At the Musée d’Orsay in Paris it was subtitled “La Manière espagnole au XIXe siècle.” In its New York version the subtitle became “The French Taste for Spanish Painting.” Whatever else was intended, and there was more, looking at those two artists focused attention on painting as it has been in the past and prompted thoughts about painting now and its possibilities in the future. In Paris, Manet was presented as one of many French artists taking up Spain and things Spanish. In New York, Velázquez was among the many Spanish painters known to French (and, in addition, American) painters. In New York, in particular, explanatory wall labels proliferated to convey historical points about the collecting and

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