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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Manet, The Man Who Invented Modernity, on view at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, through July 3, 2011

'L'Homme mort, 1864-65' (Dead Man) by French painter Edouard Manet (1832-1883) 'L'Homme mort, 1864-65' (Dead Man) by French painter Edouard Manet (1832-1883)

In a contest for the title of most reviled artist, Edouard Manet would be well placed to win.

It was only after his death of tertiary syphilis at age 51, in 1883, that he was recognized as one of the great masters of the 19th century. Placing him in the history of art, however, is not an easy task.

The Impressionists regarded him as their leader and were disappointed when he refused to participate in their exhibitions. Degas called him a traitor.

In 1910, the first Post-Impressionist show in London, organized by Roger Fry, treated him as the forerunner of Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh. Today, we tend to see him as the man who invented modernity.

That’s, in fact, the subtitle of a huge exhibition at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Nonetheless, the show firmly embeds Manet in the tradition of French painting, surrounding his works with some by his more conventional colleagues. The Manichaean way of separating academic art and avant-garde, we are told by the curators, makes no sense.

In the first room, 19 works by Manet are confronted with nine by his teacher Thomas Couture. Traditionally, Manet’s six years of apprenticeship are dismissed as of no great consequence, and it’s true the teacher was horrified by the pupil’s “Absinthe Drinker,” the first of his many paintings rejected by the Salon. It’s on display here as an etching.

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