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Because he is the first modernist and/or the last old master, the interpretation of Manet's painting is relevant both to art today and to understanding art history. The subject in his own time of journalistic writing, by the 1960s Manet's sources and composition were studied in more sophisticated ways. The great New York-Paris retrospective of 1983 provided the happy occasion to view the body of his work, and now a number of new texts amplify and criticize these earlier interpretations Faced with so many, often opposed commentaries, what lessons about interpretation can be learned? Interpretation of representational art means, first, to identify what a picture depicts. Olympia shows a recHning woman; identifying her as a Titian-

quotation, an unidcalizcd nude, a Baudelairian figure, a prostitute, or a

symbol of ideal beauty is more controversial The identity of a place or person shown in a photograph is determinant; that image stands in a causal relation to its content. Unlike a photograph, Manet's At the Cafe' need not show any particular cafe and the Old Musician may not portray any individual musician. Furthermore, even if we can identify real sources for his images, we may also find that his paintings make art historical references. To depict a cat using a schema borrowed from Chardin is both to represent, possibly, some individual cat and to draw attention to the quotation; and it can be difficult to focus simultaneously on these two different meanings of such an image. Just as treating Olympia as allegory makes it seem more sophisticated than identifying it as a literal image, so pointing to the erudition manifested in Manet's quotations implies a more complicated artistic mentality than noting his free brushwork The birth of professional art history is marked in part by the insistence that straightforward-looking works have such hidden meanings. 'This admirable and interesting piece represents the union of a man and a woman dressed in state and holding each other's hand; the lady wearing a wedding-ring halfway up her finger, and attended by a terrier of wondrous workmanship.'' Compared with Panofsky, Crowe and Cavalcaselle make van Eyck's 'Amolfini Mamage' seem uncomplicated. When the erudite iconographer finds complex
Art History Vol. 8 No. 3 September 1985
RKP 1985 0141-6790/85/0803-320 $1 50/1


meanings in seemingly simple scenes, one response is to critically note that there may be no direct evidence that the artist intended these meanings, and so reason to think they are imported into the work by the critic. This argument assumes that we may distinguish the artwork as it really is from that work as it is interpreted; questions about that work's meaning have true or false answers, even if we may never know them. Thinking about interpretation thus makes it very difficult to understand the development of art history Until the nineteenth century, the curtain in Raphael's Sistine Madonna was not discussed.^ Critics then interpreted it as a realistic depiction of a window curtain, some twentieth-century accounts give a Heideggerian reading or say that it refers to the windowlike character of paintings; and the text summarizing seventy-eight successive interpretations identifies it as a symbol for Mary's virginity. Pointing to how earlier notions of naturalism, and formalist and Heideggerian theories led to misinterpretations, this interpretation aims to recover the original meaning of the curtain. Predictably enough, however, it led to another interpretation, one which revives the older accounts: 'it IS possible to maintain that the late 19th-century account of the curtain . . as part of a window . . . fits with the intentions of artist and patron as well as the symbolic interpretation . . .'^ Our conception of those intentions is influenced by changing styles of interpretation, and by more recent art; and it would be strangely optimistic, after scanning these seventy-nine interpretations, to think that the last word has been said. To interpret an artwork is to put it in context. Arthur Danto gives a highly suggestive image of this process, which may help explain why any given interpretation is revisable. Imagine the Arena Chapel frescoes destroyed 'leaving only the Christ-figure with raised arm.'* Disputing with the elders; causing water to become wme, commanding Lazarus to arise; blessing at the Jerusalem gate, expelling the lenders in the temple: these different actions 'must be explained through variations in context' smce the self-same raised hand may perform them all. To put Manet's art in context, analogously, is to relate it to the modernization of Pans, the art he knew, and his social world. Mallarme, Baudelaire and Zola were friends; a vaguely left-wing dandy, he was not poor, like the young Monet, nor repressed, like Cezanne. We thus construct an imagined figure, the implied artist, whose qualities determine how we understand Manet's paintings Here, however, the analogy with Giotto's depicted Christ-hands breaks down.^ Knowing the full picture, we can place those hands in context unambiguously; but the context of Manet's world can be variously construed. We may think him erudite or superficial, worldly or a proto-feminist, complacent or socially concerned; and that implied artist provides a context for interpreting his art. One common traditional view is that Manet was a very uneven artist; now the claim is made that he sought to avoid achieving such a unity, characteristic of the old masters but foreign to modernists. Should he be judged in the context of the old master art, or is he doing something altogether new? Alain de Leiris argues against the 'prevalent tendency . . . to measure Manet's originality in inverse proportion to the degree of reliance on precedents in individual 321


paintings,' which implies that Olympia is a major work and the Old Musician minor.^ If we take Manet's remarks seriously we may, he argues, find, rather, that 'the Old Musician is the first large scale "manifesto" in which Manet uncompromisingly tests the strength of his own vision in a direct confrontation with historical prototypes.' Perhaps the divisions within his art reflect a divided personality If 'he demanded an audience at any cost,' he also, 'protractedly supported by his conservative parents,' therefore was 'obsessively ambitious for conventional recognition ''' Thus characterized, he seems a weak personality; and that, possibly, was Baudelaire's judgment But these divisions can be described in a more positive way. Perhaps he 'paraphrased the methods of academic painters, their heavy allegory and elaborately constructed compositions, to make a wry comment about their precepts . .'^ Thus described, interpretation seems, necessarily, a speculative activity. We interpret a given painting by attributing to the implied artist some imagined personality; and that view of him, in turn, influences how we see the remainder of his work. But some interpreters, whom I will call positivists, reject this claim. Manet's art, they allow, can be used to introduce such speculations; but we understand them better when 'the paintings are allowed to speak for themselves.'^ Is it possible to thus step out of the hermeneutic circle and view the artwork as it really is? Even the simplest description of a work may involve speculation. The cat in the drawing, Cat under a Bench, is not Mallarme's cat, but another; that implies something about Manet's relation with the poet."^ Mallarme, the younger man, came to visit the painter, who did not return his visits The cat in Olympia may refer to one in a Chardin." Michael Fried's interpretation may not contradict, but surely it does amplify the traditional claim that the cat is a Baudelairean motif, referring to a poem like 'Le Chat' Je vois ma femme en esprit Son regard, Comme le tien, amiable bete, Profond et froid, coupe et fend comme un dard, Et, des pieds jusqu'a la tete, Un air subtil, un dangereux parfum Nagent autour de son corps brun. Manet portrayed Monet several times, and asking whether his sitter wore the same hat in both works - 'although the bnm is turned up in the drawing' may determine whether both were made 'when Monet and Manet were both working in Argenteuil.''^ Manet depicted his step-son Leon in Th Luncheon and, perhaps, in Study of a Boy; and the reading of their expressive qualities can be influenced by our beliefs about the possibility that the boy was his natural child.'3 Many interpretations contrast literal and symbolic meanings. The Balloon shows a scene sometirnes read as a crucifixion; perhaps the juxtaposition, balloon and crippled boy, is symbolic.'* To argue that it cannot be a crucifixion because it depicts an observed scene assumes that Manet's work is not polysemous. Similarly, to note that because the Japanese print depicted in 322


Portrait of Emile Zola was a bit of studio decor, it cannot also allude to Zola's criticism, supposes that such a represented element must have only one meaning.'^ That portrait contains three pictures within the picture: a Japanese print of a wrestler; a modified version of Olympia; a Goya print after Velazquez. Perhaps they show strength vs sensuality and allude to the coarse life Zola loved to describe; alternatively, they might have been painted just because they make an attractive composition.'^ If Manet was a 'mischevous but gallant man-about-town,' he could have placed a sword in Boy with a Sword as 'a disguised comment' on his 'personal and professional interests'; he would not have joked about Nana's virtue by depicting a crane (la grue = high class prostitute, slang) behind her in Nana.^^ Maybe someone with his politics could not have painted tht Old Musician without deep awareness of the tragic plight of such a figure.'^ But since 'the only direct evidence' we have for his view of Haussmann's rebuilding of Paris IS 'delight in the novel visual effects provided by a tree left standing in a destroyed garden and by the whiteness of a workman's clothing against a white plaster wall,' which sounds Pateresque, why not assume that the wealthy dandy found that violinist a picturesque vagrant? The attempt to construct one consistent image of Manet may not be true even to how we know ourselves. Like many people, I sometimes am socially concerned and at other times only an aesthete; to assume that Manet could not also be volatile is to imagine him an unusually consistent person. Even when his opinions are recorded, we may interpret them in complex ways. While painting The Monet Family in the Garden, he said of Renoir- 'He has no talent, that boy! . . tell him to give up painting.''^ An ironical man is subtle in saying the opposite of what he means, and so this remark is now read ironically. We may expect one good artist to recognize another, though knowing Cezanne's judgment of Gauguin, or Zola's of Cezanne would give reason to question that expectation Even if Manet was not a believer, Edgar Wind's claim that The Dead Christ and the Angels was 'painted for an exhibition, not a church' is not necessarily correct, and George Mauner's religious reading of the picture not necessarily refuted by that evidence.^ A non-Catholic might have developed a complex religious iconography; even a believer perhaps could only do a secular-looking Christ in Manet's time. Many accounts imagine Manet's choice of subjects to have intended personal or political meanings. Maybe his presentation of secular and erotic works, Olympia and Christ Scourged, in the same Salon emulated Titian's presentation of a pair of erotic and religious works to Charles V.^' Perhaps he commented on the Commune of 1870 by sending to the Salon an earlier work. Battle of the Kearsarge and the Alabama, depicting a naval battle of the American civil war. Might he, 'savaged by the critics' in 1864, have 'identified with the fallen bullfighter in The Dead Toreador; with Christ in Christ Scourged,' which would explain the 'use of a French angel as the basis for one of Christ's tormentors' since he was tormented by the French public; or with the emperor Maximilian in Execution of the Emperor Maximilian, 'another victim of the imperial Regime.'^^ Responding to the second of these claims, Theodore Reff argues: 'Manet, a practicing Catholic . . . would hardly have conceived such a



blasphemy .'^^ But perhaps only a religious person would find such blasphemy meaningful. Most recent interpretations assert that even apparent infelicities - 'faulty' composition, hasty brushwork - are meaningful, and it is interesting to contrast them with older accounts, written when his status as artist was less secure, which make him a simpler ^* ll y a eu des gens qui ont cherche un sens philosophique dans le tableau {Olympia), d'autres . n'auraient pas ete faches d'y decouvnr une intention obscene. Eh! dites-leur done tout haut, cher maitre, que vous n'etes point ce qu'ils pensent, qu'un tableau pour vous est un simple pretexte a analyze. II vous fallait une femme nue, et vous avez choisi Olympia, la premiere venue . . . (Zola). In Manet there is scant evidence of a reflective mind, an inquiring intellect, or a participating will (Hamilton). There is no psychology and nothing to allow us to glimpse the secrets of mind or heart. Manet, if one likes, is a painter of the epidermis (Courthion). John Richardson, who does admire him, asks why Manet didn't at least disguise his weaknesses in composition by copying well-composed pictures. Alan Bowness, unwilling to castigate a great master, concludes that these faults must somehow be meaningful." If he qu6tes so often, perhaps that is because he wants us to notice his references; admiration, not incapacity, explains such borrowings from the past.^^ If 'the very quality of Manet's painted surfaces' reveals that he had 'neither a court nor Velazquez's sustaining trust in representation,' perhaps that shows his deep anticipation of the problems of modernism.^^ Not surprisingly, the one recent commentator who refuses to take such speculations seriously is also the only serious recent critic to fundamentally question his achievement as an artist. A Bar at the Folies Bergere is a very interesting work, for we have six recent interpretations of its apparent contradictions. T.J. Clark's influential account treats this as a Lacanian play with the illusory nature of the self.^^ Since we cannot be consistently placed in relation to the reflected man - 'his transaction with the girl who leans toward him taking his order cannot be the same as our transaction with the girl who gazes back at us' - we are looking into an impossible space, one leaving us no place, 'least of all the place we are allotted in the mirror.' The barmaid is a whore soliciting our gaze in this scene of capitalist alienation. Following Richard WoUheim, we may rather see ourselves put in the picture space, identified with that man facing the woman; note 'the use that Manet makes of the man's reflection . . . to inculpate the spectator in the man's sexual advances. . . .'^ Third, the work illustrates, almost, Greenberg's theory of formalism. 'Manet's space is not explainable or enterable, but remains poised at that curious point of tension between plane and illusion - the very tension which was to lead artists to new solutions in the twentieth century.'^" Fourth, the real and mirror worlds may not exhibit novel conditions of alienation, but express what Mauner calls concern with 'the age324


old question of "existence" and reality.'^' Fifth, perhaps Manet 'surely had no intention of portraying the degradation of a fallen woman,' though admittedly such barmaids, who were hired for their beauty, could 'easily enough become whores' if they 'were pretty.'^^ Sixth, maybe from the barmaid's position the picture IS consistent Seen 'as a reflection of reflections, as the hubbub of the Folies-Bergere from the point of view of the girl waiting to take your order, the picture holds together.' Describing the conflicts between these interpretations is valuable Clark's claim that we are excluded from the picture seems inconsistent with the suggestion that we are to identify with the depicted man. Clark says: ^we must be where he is '^* But he goes on to deny that this is possible- 'we cannot be; not, anyway, if we are to remain what that easy "we" implies the single viewer of the painting in question . the subject for whom the picture exists and makes sense. ' What he rules out is the possibility that we can identify with a depicted figure, which certainly does make it difficult for us to remain an easy 'we.' How may we know if such identification is possible? Wollheim critically described the tendency to turn 'the city in which one actually lives . . . into a succession of flickering images,' a remark consistent with many in a book important for Clark, Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle- 'The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images . . . it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness. . . .'^^ Given this shared attitude, the difference perhaps is that Wollheim resists seeing the modern city as spectacle, and Clark finds that the only possible truthful viewpoint. For Wollheim we can imaginatively place ourselves, as for Clark we cannot, as embodied viewers within that spectacle. Either of these accounts seems inconsistent with Mauner's very personal analysis or with the formalist description. Still, a viewer with a high tolerance for visual ambiguity might think that these are mutually inconsistent viewpoints only if we assume that a depicted space must possess only one right interpretation. The insistence in the 1983 catalogue that the barmaid cannot be a prostitute is bizarre. 'It would of course have been easy to shp out of one role into the other, provided one were pretty, but the model, at least at the time of the painting, is decidedly on the other side of the counter, an indifferent observer' (my itahcs).^^ Contemporary guidebooks tell that prostitutes were to be found in the Folies Bergere, but they cannot tell us whether Manet intended his barmaid to be one. The admission that she might become a whore treats the painting in a very literal way, as if the exact identity of the model - a nonprofessional who worked at this bar - were relevant, while the claim that only pretty women could become prostitutes overestimates our ability to reconstruct the social history of the time. Berthe Morisot's portrait in The Balcony was found ugly at the Salon; she thought it 'strange rather than ugly'; and if today her 'intent, pensive face seems beautiful to us,' then -just as we cannot easily understand why Cabanel and Gerome were preferred to Manet - so an act of imagination is needed to understand why her portrait was not found beautiful.^'' Given these difficulties, it would be strange to assume that we can accurately judge the attractiveness of Manet's barmaid to 1880s men. Admittedly this is in part a political


dispute, as identifying her as a 'girl' or 'a fallen woman' - what a Victorian phrase! - indicates. By comparison, the trouble with the sixth account is that it remains undeveloped. Asserting that from her position 'the picture holds together' is not to say enough. If this means that looking from her position the picture space is consistent, then this interpretation is incorrect. The more general assumption that normally a naturalistic picture is consistent is itself interesting, for it justifies comparing such representations to photographs. Just as Erie Loran treated Cezanne's landscapes as transformations of actual scenes, photographed for purposes of comparison, so Reff describes Manet's The World's Fair as showing, by comparison with 'Berthe Morisot's view of the same scene,' that Manet stood 'halfway down the hillside.'^^ Transformations of the actually visible scene are expressive; Manet 'juxtaposed rather abruptly' what he saw to express 'the overwhelming abundance . of sensations stimulated by an immense world's fair.' Analogously, the debate about the image of the Folies Bergere treats it as a photographic-like representation. Unless doctored, a photograph could not show the barmaid and her reflection as they appear in the painting; in a photograph, the woman would either be or not be a whore But a painted figure need not possess such an unambiguous identity. Even if we knew that Manet's model was not 'a fallen woman' that would not show that Clark's analysis was incorrect, no more than knowing that Rubens used his wife as model for a Madonna would show that the resulting altarpiece did not depict the Virgin. Such argumentation occurs with other examples. Le Dejeuner sur I'herbe is, according to a well-known reminiscence by a friend of the artist, a redoing of a famous Giorgione in contemporary dress; Fried relates it to Watteau's La Villageoise; many critics note that it borrows from part of a Raimondi engraving after Raphael; Mauner says that it shows both pagan and Christian subjects to describe 'the opposition of spirit and flesh'; Nochlin asserts that it was a practical joke. For Schneider 'the breaking point . . . between tradition and originality . . becomes visible' in this work where Gombrich sees only 'a simple transposition of a detail from a composition by Raphael. . . .'"^ Knowing the general procedures of Fried, Mauner, Nochlin, Schneider and Gombrich would enable us to predict, almost, their analysis. Where Gombrich finds traditional making-and-matching, other critics see the origins of modernism. Where he finds perfected naturalism - 'as we stand before one of (Manet's) pictures, it seems more immediately real than any old master' modernist interpreters find a deliberately unreal image.*' Some disagreements involve disputes about expressive qualities. Does The Balcony show 'the figures . . . lifeless . . . painted with no sympathy and not a trace of irony either' or does Manet 'play on the contrast between the slightly stifling exuberance of the setting and the reserved delicacy of the young woman's head, a device that reflects on the psychological tension of the scene'?*^ Here again perception is conditioned by our beliefs about the artist's general goals. Each account imagines an implied artist: Mauner's philosopher-painter whose apparent p)eculiarities reveal a system of 'unchanging fundamental truths'; Fried's quotation-manipulator who reclaims the traditions of French


painting.*^ Even highly critical accounts create some such personage: 'Manet's seemingly contradictory liking for Raphael and Hokusai, for fancy dress and scenes from everyday life have been . ingeniously reconciled. But the elements never fall into place to clarify a coherent artistic personality.'** Olympia may be a proto-feminist work, more truthful than a conventional nude since her disarming stare marks the refusal to be a sexual object *^ By contrast. Ball at the Opera shows, more conventionally, pleasure in 'a scene of erotic commerce '*^ And then the unity of Manet's work may be explained in various ways. Perhaps he was only a sometime feminist; possibly - Olympia is the earlier work - he gave up his feminist beliefs; maybe he was inconsistent; if we accept Nochlin's different interpretation of Olympia, feminist art historians have read that painting too sympathetically.*^ Manet the proto-marxist; Manet who plays with our erotic response; Manet the formalist, Manet the painter-philosopher; Manet the gallant who would not depict a fallen woman: all these are different figures, and the choice between them is complex. Sometimes the contrast is made between placing him in his time and speculatively, as one positivist says, projecting 'upon Manet an intellectual move that belongs rather to the age . . . of conceptual art than to the painter of 1860.'*^ Reff, similarly, objects that Fried claims for Manet's art 'the ambitions and attitudes that he would claim for modernist art one hundred years later.'*^ Nowhere in journahsm of the 1860s, he is correct to note, do we find anything like Fried's speculations; neither, however, do we find his elaborate scholarship, which draws on art historical research whose creation postdates Manet's art. The relatively obscure The Nymph Surprised plays a role in this debate. If the correct title, Susannah and the Elders, is Manet's original one, then we spectators find ourselves those male voyeurs who spy on her.^ Alternatively, since she crosses her legs, we may see the painting as an anti-theatrical work, it denies our presence before it. The former interpretation, from Rosalind Krauss, is much like a number of l.eo Steinberg's analyses; the latter of course reflects Fried's view of 1960s art. If, however, Manet casually changed the subject from Susannah and the Elders to The Nymph Surprised because 'he was neither a theorist nor an art historian,' then these interpretations may be unnecessary.^' But our judgment of the importance of that title presupposes some notion of Manet the implied-artist. What does it mean to place Manet in his historical context without projecting on to his work some modern theory? Manet, I say, is like David Salle; that is a description Manet would find unrecognizable. But if I explain that he, like Salle, quotes images, then he might, on some plausible reconstructions of his work, accept that parallel. We might attempt to understand Manet by reading the contemporary accounts of Baudelaire, Mallarme and Zola. Baudelaire called him 'a man of brilliant and facile ability' with 'a weak character'; was that a considered judgment, or only a reflection of his own failing health?^^ Zola's La Bete Humaine presents an outlook alien to Manet; does that give reason to distrust his account? Compare his analysis of Olympia given earlier with Mallarme's: 'Le bouquet encore enveloppe de son papier, le chat tenebreux apparemment suggere par un poeme en prose de l'auteur des Fleurs du Mal, tous les accessoires etaient


conformes a la verite, non pas lmmoraux . . . mais d'une tendance incontestable a la perversite mentale.'^^ 'Les Impressionnistes et Edouard Manet' is as Mallarmesque as Zola's texts are Zolaesque. Reff argues that Zola's denial of the importance of Olympia'^ content 'had a tactical goal', the writer desired to underplay the importance of 'social phenomena of which he was keenly aware as journalist and novelist.'^* Manet's 'noncommittal' response to this misguided praise and Zola's later admission that he was disconcerted by Manet's art give further evidence for the unreliability of his texts. Reff's subtle analysis is speculative. Imagine an alternative account in which Zola, the acute social observer, was clever enough to see that Olympia did lack content; Manet, characteristically verbally noncommittal in response, and Zola disconcerted by Manet's paintings because they did lack content. RefT writes: 'Whether Zola was also stating Manet's views in stressing the primacy of form rather than content is difficult to know.' He treats the argument as a question about matters of fact, which tends to underplay his own creativity in constructing from the incomplete evidence a convincing interpretation. Similarly, asking 'how reliable are Mallarme's account and interpretation of Manet's method and aims**' poses a question with a determinant answer ^^ Since Manet did not write out an answer to the question, 'all that we know is deduced from the reports of others and from the paintings themselves.' Concluding that for Mallarme 'the successful poem should impart both a sense of completeness and a mood of spontaneity,' which are 'precisely the qualities . . Mallarme understood and admired in Manet's mature paintings' seems overoptimistic in the implied parallel between verbal and visual artworks and misleading in so far as many critics deny that Manet's paintings appear complete. Since we also know that Mallarme's choice of graphics shows that 'his taste was quite different from Manet's as far as pictorial treatment is concerned,' have we not reason to question the claim that he 'thoroughly understood' that art? Analogously, Jean Clay argues that Baudelaire's famous sentence, 'You are only the first in the decrepitude of your art,' should be interpreted to express Baudelaire's admiration for the painter: 'It is Manet's fluctuations, a certain return to the museum picture . . . and the apparent abandonment of the path penned by Musw in the Tuilenes that is being denounced.'^^ But though Baudelaire's words are then made consistent with Clay's own brilliant, speculative analysis, it is hard to know what evidence could demonstrate that Baudelaire intended to claim this. The problems of interpretation cannot be solved, then, by appealing to contemporary accounts. Just as Fried, Mauner, Nochlin and the other critics bring their particular viewpoint to Manet, so the same was true of Baudelaire, Mallarme and Zola. Perhaps some modem accounts are elaborate because only the sophistication of our art historical tools does justice to his art; alternatively, as the positivists insist, these accounts might project our concepts into his work. Concluding, then, that every interpretation is partly {jersonal and probably revisable might seem an uncontroversial summary of my evidence. But none of the major critics admits as much.^^ In part, this may


reflect the psychology of a situation in which controversial claims must be made as forcefully as possible; to allow that one's interpretation is merely plausible makes it sound unconvincing. The literary critic Stanley Fish, who deals interestingly with this issue, is often taken to be a sophist.^^ It is easy to imagine my account being similarly characterized. To avoid that error, let me analyze one interpretation presented by a critic who admits that his account is probably not correct. An incomplete, undated letter by Manet, recipient unknown- 'Impossible to do anything worthwhile on the fan you sent me '^^ Nothing is known about that fan and so this sentence, like one collected by Nietzsche's editors - 'I have lost my umbrella' - appears meaningless.^ But let us put it in context. In The Balcony Berthe Morisot holds a folded fan, and her sister a parasol. According to the 1983 catalogue this is not, as Fried says, an allegory about Manet's development, nor, as Mauner opines, a momento mori, but 'a striking image because it shares the realistic images of the time.'^' But if the letter were meant for Morisot, we might understand why the fan, which appears also in Repose:
Portrait of Berthe Monsot and Berthe Morisot with Ean becomes, as the catalogue

recognizes, an 'attribute he was to choose for her repeatedly.'^^ Another woman, Mme GuiUemet, is shown in In the Conservatory with parasol, not fan; there is a fan in Lola de Valence, an earlier work, but since no fan appears in that work's source, Goya's The Duchess of Alba, perhaps there the fan functions to assert Manet's distance from the work he quotes.^^ In 1862, in that Goya quotation, the fan-motif was merely an extraneous element which by 1868, the date of Tiu Balcony, Manet made his own. I focus attention here on only a fragment of Manet's oeuvre, but the discovery that many Manets were tampered with after his death should make us doubt our capacity to determine just by inspection whether any given, seemingly finished work is a fragment.^ What, indeed, is a fragment? The pictures within the picture in the Zola portrait are depicted fragments of independent artworks, many actual Manets are fragments, cut by him; Mauner assembles in one photographic collage Olympia, a detail from Le Dejeuner and two isolated figures from the Parthenon pediment to show Manet's intentions as he reconstructs them.^^ Other critics treat Manet's oeuvre as fragmentary until placed in the context of art history, or French culture. For them, his individual paintings are really fragments. Sometimes, I admit, such hypotheses fail to create from fragments an organic whole. Courthion writes: ^The Balcony was inspired by Baudelaire whose famous poem of the same title was written about that time: 'And evenings on the balcony, veiled in pink mists . . .' . . . there are no pmk mists in Manet's paintings, but. . . .'^ The account of Manet's fan-motif is more plausible. As the quotation from Nietzsche reminds, concern with fragments was important in late nineteenth-century Eurof>ean culture. One positivist dismisses accounts which 'fragment Manet' and so do 'not advance understanding'; instead, let us ask 'how Manet made such materials his own.'^' He implies that we can unambiguously determine the context of Manet's art. But if it is relevant to study the paintings Manet saw in 329


Spain and his correspondence with Baudelaire and Zola, then why cannot we bring in texts by them which he never read, or writings by such nearcontemporaries as Nietzsche? The 1983 catalogue complains that nowadays 'the paintings seem peripheral to the explanations about them.'^ But though the account therein of x-rays of some Manets, or the comparison of photographs of Clemenceau with Manet's portraits of him are interesting, the claim that thereby we focus on the paintings themselves is false or misleading. If we learn that 'what is mere gesture in the photographs' of Clemenceau 'has been translated into the posture and personality of a powerful political figure,' that is by going ouside Manet's picture. If that portrait is called 'a work of psychological truth, Manet's presence not by any means obliterating that of Clemenceau,' how can we not think of those words as a critique of Bataille's famous description of Olympia: 'The picture obliterates the text.'^^ As an astute reader might have guessed by now, the account of Manet's fan-motif is my interpretation, suggested by Demda's account of Nietzsche. The defects of this interpretation are obvious. I do not show that the fans depicted by Manet are mentioned in the letter, nor that fans were of especial importance to him. Meyer Schapiro argues that Cezanne's apples were of psychological significance; I ofler no comparable account of Manet's fans.^" Still, consider some similarities of my makeshift analysis and Fried's and Mauner's developed accounts. Fried describes at length Manet's link with Michelet; Reff notes that there is no evidence that the artist read that historian.^' Mauner's text is amazing; but it lacks solid documentation and conflicts with other, more straightforward accounts of the artist's implied personality. A certain tradition of criticism influenced by Pater, Wilde and recent French-style criticism identifies the critic as a figure as creative as the artist whose work he or she describes. Art historians strongly resist such claims. A Bar at the Folies Bergere, they would say, need not truthfully depict that place; but an interpretation of that painting must be true to Manet's artwork. This entrenched distinction between creative writing and interpretation poses questions about all these various Manet-interpretations. Does the existence of many different accounts show that his works can be given any meaning whatsoever? How is the art historians' search for a uniquely true interpretation consistent with the existence of seemingly conflicting interpretations? The attempt to definitively explain the meaning of Manet's work will, I am arguing, fail. Roland Barthes gives a good reason to accept that belief. 'Once the artist is removed, the claim to decipher a painting becomes quite futile.'^^ In my reading of that gnomic phrase: So long as Manet-the-implied-artist is underdetermined by the facts, interpretations of his work are always revisable. Barthes adds, 'the birth of the spectator must be at the cost of the death of the artist,' and these conflicting interpretations, so puzzling if taken as revelations of Manet's intentions, become richly suggestive as alternative readings about how his work may be placed in context. My fan-motif proposal differs from these grave accounts not in being more speculative, but in breaking some established rules for interpretation. Connecting Manet with Nietzsche violates the rule that he is understood in the


context of French culture. But an important account of seventeenth-century Dutch art makes a similar move, and shows how such rules may be broken or changed. The Dutch painted, but didn't philosophize, the English had philosophers but no good painters: putting together Dutch art and English philosophy, we get a very suggestive theory of that Dutch art ^^ This parallel is not meant to compare myself, a mere philosopher, with Svetlana Alpers, but to acknowledge what I have learned from her book. Like all scholars, art historians 'fall heir to the institution's way of making sense, its systems of intelligibility.'^* Once Manet's status withm the museum became secure, it was inevitable that art historians would first analyze him as if he was an old master and, more recently, rebel against such accounts Interpretations of his work are revisable in part because anyone today seeking to make a contribution to the literature must say something new, taking issue with Mauner, Fried, Reff, . . . as they took issue with their precursors I have so far described recent Manet-interpretation in terms of changing styles of art history writing. As Panofsky allegorized van Eyck, so Mauner finds hidden meanings in Manet; as art history traces out quotations in Renaissance art, so does Fried in Manet. But Manet has also been interpreted in relation to more recent American painting. 'Manet's paintings became the first Modernist ones by virtue of the frankness with which they declared the surfaces on which they were painted.'^^ Greenberg implies that we can understand puzzling-seeming features of Manet in terms of that artist's anticipation of abstract expressionism. Summarizing that view in 1965, Fried descnbed the history of painting from Manet onward as 'characterized in terms of the gradual withdrawal of painting from the task of representing reality .''^ But as formalist criticism itself becomes merely of historical interest, an altogether different image of Manet emerges Now Fried says that the failure of recent critics to understand Manet 'as a painter of major ambition' is at stake in calling him 'a modernist painter, a term that revisionist art history tends to shun. . '^'' I would put the point another way. What is at stake is asking: have we left behind modernism and entered the postmodernist ^^ (His) image of a girl is first, last and always an image of a girl, a configuration of paint on a surface of canvas. The exact provenance of these forms is not of interest in itself. We learn nothing much by tracking them to their sources The art object is 'layered' by representational codes - to be deciphered by an observer schooled by previous art in the artificiality of perception itself. He makes paintings, but they are dead, inert representations of the impossibility of passion in a culture that has institutionalized selfexpression. These statements, apt-seeming as descriptions of Manet, actually occur in accounts of {X)stmodernism. The use of images whose sources are elusive; the failure of these representations to refer outside the world of images; the feeling 331


that meaningful expression with images is no longer possible: all these are links between Manet and our postmodernists. If'Manet skims from anywhere' so that for him 'the notion of style . . . loses all relevance'; if he, hke 'Warhol and Lichtenstein paint(s) not objects but what is perceived of them in the ebb and flow of the mass media'; if he was 'the first artist to feel the constituent elements of the painting . . to be dissociable': then was he the first postmodernist?^^ Since traditionally he is called the first modernist, the historical implications of this question are complex. 'PostModernism is the modern after the modern, more modem than modern, or it could mean anti-Modern.'^ The word originates in architectural criticism. A postmodernist house-owner is 'free from all sentimentahty or fantasy'; he lives in what Toynbee characterized as a time of lack of confidence when, as JeanFranfois Lyotard now writes, there is a felt 'nostalgia of the whole and the one.'^' But if postmodernism begins with Manet, when then did modernism originate? If Manet's art marks the closing off of the modernist tradition, then where do we locate the origins of the modernist era? One influential source for these ideas is Foucault's brief early (1967) characterization of Manet's art as 'perhaps the first "museum" paintings': 'Flaubert is to the library what Manet is to the museum. They both produced works m a self-conscious relationship to earlier paintings or texts. . . They erect their art within the archive.'^^ Surprisingly, Reff, who calls attention to the publication in 1864 of 'the first comprehensive, illustrated history of European painting,' also makes this point. The simultaneous appearance of that book 'and of Manet's ambitiously "historical" paintings is not so much a

fortunate coincidence as the product of specific cultural conditions, in which

the foundations of modern art history and those of modern art were laid down together. . . .' To be fully convincing, this analysis requires development. By itself, the notion of image-appropriation does not distinguish Manet from Rubens, whose art is filled with quotations, or Reynolds, who asserts that an artist's skill is measured by his ability to borrow.^* Courbet and the 1960s pop artists also borrow from popular culture, but they are not called postmodernists. As Reff asks: 'When Reynolds portrays his sitters in attitudes borrowed from famous pictures. . . , when Ingres deliberately refers in his religious compositions to those of Raphael . . . do they not reveal the same historical consciousness that informs Manet's early work?'^^ The insistence that we must either view Manet's quotations as only starting-points for actually represented scenes or as referring to the images they quote may adopt a one-dimensional reading of his procedure. 'Manet uses the schema to produce a synthesis of old and new; it becomes in his hands a form-idea, hybrid in its parentage, whole and indivisible in its manifestation . . . experience of art (image or schema) and the personal experience of a particular object are one and simultaneous.'^^ Douglas Crimp asks the right question: In pointing to continuities between old master and postmodernist art, are we not in danger of perpetuating the 'blind application of art-historical methodology' to works which, if they are novel, demand new strategies of interpretation?^^ Obviously nobody would confuse a Manet with a David Salle, but finding an adequate theory to explain


that difference may not be easy. When Craig Owens, in his polemical account of postmodernism asserts that the goal of art history is to answer two questions - who made the work?; what is the meaning of the objects depicted in It? - he describes the aims and problems of Manet-interpretation.^^ Barthes and Foucault, major influences on the postmodernists, want us to give up the belief that we explain the work by imagining it 'tyrannically centered on the artist, his person, his hfe, his tastes, his passions '^^ The result is demonstrated in my study of Manet-interpretation. The facts about his life and historical context do not uniquely define Manet-the-implied-artist; hence alternative, seemingly conflicting interpretations of his art are possible. Whether or not that makes him a postmodernist, it does demonstrate why today his art is relevant In the heyday of color field painting, Monet seemed an important historical figure. His belief 'that the real world is the source both of subjectmatter and style' provided a way of anchoring abstract images in external observable reality. Today he seems less interesting than Manet, the protopostmodernist. In 1966 George Heard Hamilton published an article with the good title, 'Is Manet still "Modern"?'; and the right answer is 'no' not then, but 'yes' now.^' We have learned to see more in Manet's work, or to find more there. A sympathetic reader of one draft of this essay worried that it 'seems to propound a sort of self-conscious critical relativism' which 'would truly mean, were it widely adopted, the death of all passionate and critical inquiry into the arts.'^^ This comment may reflect interesting differences between art historians and literary critics, for my concerns with relativity of interpretation are very familiar m hterary criticism. But my aim is not to attack the discipline of art history, nor to import into its domain an alien methodology, but to illustrate how its present practice involves, unavoidably, concerns about relativity of interpretation. Self-consciousness about these issues may, I hope, contribute to the development of art history.^^ David Carrier
Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh

1 J A Crowe and G B Cavalcaselle, The Early FlemtshPatnters,ljoxiAoQ, 1872, pp 100-1 2 Johann Konrad Eberlein, 'The Curtam m Raphael's Sistme Madonna,' Art BuUettn, LXV, 1983, pp 61-77 3 Richard Cocke, 'Raphael's Curtain,' Art Bulletin, LXVI, 1984, p 329 4 Arthur C Dmto, Analytical Philosophy of Action, Cambndge, 1973, p lx 5 See my'Art without Us Artists'', finftjAyoiinw/o/ Aesthetus 22, 1982, pp 233-44 6 Alain de Leins, 'Manet, Gueroult and Chrysippos,' Art Bullehn, XLVI, 1964, p 403 7 Seymour Howard, 'Early Manet and Artful Error Foundations of Anti-IUusion in Modem Pamtmg,' Art Joumai, XXXVII, 1977, p 20 8 Wayne Andersen,'Manet and the Judgment of Pans,' Artnews, 72, 1973, p 67, see also the cntical reply Theodore Reff, 'Manet and Pans Anotherjudgment,'^rn<it)i, 72, 1973, pp 50-6 9 Jed Perl, 'Art and Urbanity The Manet Retrospective,' New CnUnon, 2, 1983, p. 45 10 F Ciichm et al, Manet I832-I883, New York, 1983, p 379 11 Michael Fned,'Manet's Sources,'^r^/oram, 7, 1%9, p 71 12 Cachin, op cit, p 364 13 Ibid , p 295, p 292 14 Ibid , p 135, p 295, Bradford R Collins, 'Manet's Rue Mosnter decked with Flags and the



F\aneur Concept,' Burlington Magaztru, 117, 1975,

15 16 17 18 19 20

21 22 23 24


26 27


p 713 Theodore Reff, 'Manet's Portrait of Zola,' Burlington Magazine, 117, 1975, pp 35-44 Theodore Reff, Manet Olympia, New York, 1975, p 26 Cachin, op cit, p 344, p 76 Theodore Reff, Manet and Modem Pans, Washington, 1983, p 180, p 19 Cachin, op cit, p 362 Edgar Wind, Art and Anarchy, New York, 1969, p 13, George Mauner, Manet, Pemtre-Philosophe, University Park, 1975 Mauner, op cit, p 140 Cachin, op cit, p 198, Fried, 'Manet's Sources,' p 57, J Richardson, Man<, London, 1%7, p 7 Theodore Reff, ' "Manet's Sources" A Cntical Evaluation,' Artfarum, 8, 1969, p 44 Emile Zola, Mon Salon Manet Ecnts sur I'art, Pans, 1970, p 110, George H Hamilton, Manet and his Cntics, New York, 1969, p 276, Pierre Courthion, Manet, New York, n d , p 9 Richardson, op cit, Alan Bowness, 'A Note on 'Manet's Compositional Difficulties',' Burlington Magazine, 103, 1961, pp 276-7 Peter Gay, Art and Act, New York, 1976, p 69 Svetlana Alpers, 'Interpretation without Representation, or The Viewing oi Las Meninas,' Representations 1, 1983, p 42, Perl, op a t , p 45 T J Clark, 'The Bar at the Fohes-Bergere,' in J Beauroy, M Bertrand, E Gargan, eds. Popular Culture in France, Saratoga, 1977, pp 233-53

44 Perl, op a t , p 45 45 Eunice Lipton, 'Manet A Radicalized Female Imagery,' Artforum, 13, 1975, pp 48-53, for discussion see Mark Roskill and David Carrier, Truth and Falsehood in Visual Images, Amherst, 1983, pp 31-9 46 Lmda Nochlin, 'A Thoroughly Modern Masked Ball,' Art in America, 71, 1983, p 196 47 Nochlin, Realism, p 84 4B Cachin, op cit, p 84 49 Refr, ' "Manet's Sources" ,' p 48 50 Rosalind Krauss, 'Manet's Nymph Surpnsed,' Burlington Magazine, 109, 1967, pp 622-5, Fned, 'Manet's Sources,' p 72 51 Beatnce Farwell, 'Manet's Nymphe Surprise,' Burlington Magazine, 117, 1975, p 229 52 Hamilton, op a t , p 36 53 Mallarme, 'Les Impressionistes et Edouard Manet,' trans P Verdier, Gazette des beaux-arts, LXXXVI, 1975, p 150 (First published in English, 1876, the ongmal text is lost) 54 RefT, Manet Olympia, pp 22-4 55 Jean C H a m s , 'A Little-Known Essay on Manet by Stephane Mallarme,' Art Bulletin, 46, 1964, pp 562-3 56 Jean Clay, 'Ointments, Makeup, Pollen,' October, 27, 1983, p 34 57 One exception in 'Painting Memones On the Containment of the Past in Baudelaire and Manet,' Cntical Inquiry, 10, 1984, p 523 Fned accepts some details of Reff's cntique of 'Manet's Sources' while asserting the basic

29 Richard WoUheim, Art and its Objects,

Cambndge, 1980, p 197 30 Anne Coffin Hanson, Edouard Manet, Philadelphia, 1966, p 187 31 Mauner, op cit , p 162 32 Cachin, op cit, p 478 33 William Feaver, 'What makes Manet modern'', Artnews, 82, 1983, p 59 34 T J Clark, The Minting of Modem Lift, New York, 1985, p 251 35 Richard Wollheim, 'Babylon, Babylone,' Encounter, 18, 1962, p 36, Guy Debord, Society of the SpectacU, Detroit, 1983, # 4 , # 3 36 Cachin, op cit, p 478 37 Ibid , p 304, see also Novelene Ross, Manet's 'Bar at the Folus Bergere' and the Myths of Popular Illustration, Ann Arbor, 1977 38 Reff, Manet and Modem Pans, pp 36-7 39 Fned, 'Manet's Sources,' p 40, Mauner, op cit, p 44, Lmda Nochlin, Realism, Harmondsworth, 1971, p 252 40 Pierre Schneider, The World of Manet 1832-1883, New York, 1968, p 25, E H Gombnch, TTu Ideas of Progress and their Impact on Art, New York, 1971, p 76 41 E H Gombnch, The Story of Art, London, 1966, p 388 42 Perl, op cit, p 50, Cachin, op a t , p 306 43 Mauner, op cit, p 87, Fned, 'Manet's Sources,' p 64

validity of his approach

58 See Stanley Fish, Is there a Text in this Class'', Cambndge, Mass , 1980 59 Cachin, op cit, p 529 60 Quoted and discussed in Jacques Dernda, Spurs Ntetzsche's Styles, trans B Harlow, Chicago, 1978, p 123 61 Cachin, op a t , p 306 62 Ibid , p 315 63 Ibid , p 146 64 See Charles F Stuckey, 'Manet Revised Whodunit'', Art in Amenca, 71, 1983, pp 158-77 65 Mauner, op a t , p 98 66 Courthion, op cit, p 102 67 John House, 'Seeing Manet Whole,' Art m Amenca, 71, 1983, p 184 68 Cachin, op cit, p 20, p 27 69 Georges Bataille, Manet, trans Wainhouse and Emmons, New York, 1983, p 31, see the review of the catalogue, Richard Thomson, 'Promoting Fantin, Moderating Manet,' Art History, 7, 1984, pp 260-2 70 Meyer Schapiro, 'The Apples of Cezanne,' repnnted in his Modem Art, Ntw York, 1978, pp 1-38. 71 See Reff,' "Manet's Sources" ' 72 Roland Barthes, 'The Death of the Author,' rq>rinted in his Image-Music-Text, trans Heath, New York, 1977, p. 148. 73 TTu Art of Describing, Chicago, 1983, see my


MANET AND HIS INTERPRETERS review. Studies m Vtsual Communuation, 9, 1983, pp 80-4 Fish, op cit , p 320 Clement Greenberg, 'Modernist Painting,' in G Battcock, ed , The New Art, New York, 1966, p 103 Michael Fried, Three American Patnters, Cambndge, Mass , 1965, p 5 Fried, 'Painting Memones ,' p 523 Carter Ratchff, 'David Salle and the New York School,' in Davtd Salle, Rotterdam, 1983, p 28, p 38, Janet Kardon, Image Scavengers Painting, Philadelphia, 1983, p 8, Thomas Lawson, 'Last Exit Painting,'^r</oram, XX, 1981, p 42 Clay, op cit, p 3, p 8, p 6, p 22 Lawrence AUoway, Network Art and the Complex Present, Ann Arbor, 1984, p 233 John Hudnut, Architecture and the Spirtt of Man, Cambndge, Mass , 1949, p 119, Arnold Toynbee, An Historian's Approach to Religion, London, 1956, p 150, Jean-Franfois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, Minneapolis, 1984, p 81 Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, ed D Bouchard, Ithaca, 1977, p 92 Reff, 'Manet and Blanc's "Histoire des Peintres",' Burlington Magaztne, 112, 1970, p 458 84 Charles Mitchell, 'Three Phases of Reynolds's Method,' Burlington Magazine, 80, 1942, pp 35-40 85 Reff, ' "Manet's Sources" ,' p 40 86 Alain de Lems, 'Edouard Manet's "Mile V in the Costume of an Espada" Form-Ideas in Manet's Stylistic Repertory, Their Sources m early drawing copies,' Arts Magazine, 53, 1979, p 116 87 Douglas Cnmp, 'On the Museum's Rums,' in H Foster, ed , The Antt-Aesthettc Essays on Postmodern Culture, Post Townsend, 1983, p 54 88 Craig Owens, 'Representation, Appropriation and Power,' Art tn Amertca, 70, 1982, pp 9-21 89 Barthes, op a t , p 149 90 Andrew Forge, introduction to Claire Joyes, Monet at Gtvemey, London, 1975, p 7 91 George H Hamilton, 'Is Manet still Modern',' Art News Annual, XXXI, 1966, pp 104-31, 159-63 92 The question comes from Francesco Pelhzzi 93 Thanks to Ehzabeth C Baker, Arthur Danto, Francesco Pellizzi, and Marianne Novy for reading earlier drafts, to Alexander Nehamas, and most especially to Mark RoskiU The painters Cathenru Lee and Sean Scully have taught me much about art and its tnterpretatton, thts essay tsfor them

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