Review: Manet and Modern Beauty at the Art Institute of Chicago Focuses on the Artist’s Late Career

Édouard Manet, Boating, 1874–1875. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929.

The first Chicago exhibition of Édouard Manet’s work in more than 50 years is now on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. Manet and Modern Beauty focuses on the artist’s late career in the 1870s and early 1880s rather than an overview of his whole career. On display are some 70 paintings, pastels and works on paper. Also on exhibit are Manet’s letters that feature his illustrations of fruits and flowers.

The art in this exhibition shows a shift of focus in Manet’s work and how he was inspired by fashionable femininity. There is an impressive range of stylish portraits of fashionable women such as actresses and models, bourgeois women that he knew, as well as a few of his male friends.

Although Manet had lived and worked in Paris, he later moved to the suburbs, a more idyllic setting, when his health started to fail. At that time, he was suffering from the late stages of syphilis and his poor health no longer allowed him to frequent the places that he once loved such as the cafes, cabarets and the opera. And it was in this country setting where an evolution took place in his art.

Looking over his work, one has to wonder if the shift in focus in his art was not just an artistic choice but also a choice of necessity because of his ill health. Manet had to spent most of his time painting indoors where models came to his studio rather than in the open air as did many of the Impressionists.

Édouard Manet, In the Conservatory, about 1877–1879. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie.

What is remarkable when looking at his work is that despite his poor health, Manet doesn’t portray gloom nor does he explore dark themes. Instead his work is a celebration of beauty—people, nature and fashion.

This sweeping exhibition gives us for the first time a close look at Manet’s work in the last stage of his career. Manet painted around the same time as the Impressionists, but his paintings have a realism that is unlike many of the other artists during that time. It is a realism that is lush in color and detail.

Manet and Modern Beauty  is co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the J. Paul Getty Museum.The exhibition will run through September 8 at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. The museum is open daily from 10:30am to 5pm and on Thursday until 8pm. For more information, call 312-443-3600 or visit their website.

Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that work s best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!

Thomas Wawzenek
Thomas Wawzenek