RA's Edouard Manet portrait show is 'unforgettable'

Jan 23, 2013

Range and variety of Manet's subjects, from family to fashionistas, are a 'revelation'

What you need to know
A major exhibition of portraiture by the 19th century French artist Edouard Manet opens at the Royal Academy this weekend. Manet: Portraying Life brings together more than 50 Manet paintings along with a selection of pastels and photographs.

The works are grouped thematically to reveal different aspects of Manet's world and Parisian society, including his family, his artist friends, his literary and theatrical friends, his models, and portraits of significant political and cultural figures of his day.

Highlights include Mme Manet in the Conservatory, Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets, The Railway (pictured), and Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe. The exhibition runs from 26 January to 14 April.

What the critics like
This marvellous exhibition will not disappoint, says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. It feels like "a high cultural version of a family album" from the man who invented Modernism. We are introduced to his friends and family, philosophers, flâneurs, fashionable salonistas and world-shaping figures. "It's quite a coup".

"The range and variety of Manet's portraits are a revelation", says Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph. Manet establishes a deep personal connection with his sitters, and "the result can be electrifying", as in his portrait of Berthe Morisot "in the throes of unbridled grief". It's an "unforgettable show".

This exhibition represents "an outpouring of one of the great geniuses of art", says Adrian Hamilton in The Independent. Manet started each picture anew and thought about how to express it. "Forget the whole, just look at the individual works and feel the mind behind them."

What they don't like
This isn't a landmark exhibition, says Adrian Searle in The Guardian. It doesn't reveal Manet in a new light, but does show that as well as marvellous paintings, he had unfinished paintings and lesser paintings. Manet is great, but "this show is a patchy ensemble".

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