Friday, April 13, 2012

Outright Plagiarism In The Art Of Manet;Perhaps Ignorance Is Bliss After All?

There is an old Chinese saying "little what know, much what wonder" which basically is rendered in English as "for a man who doesn't know much about the details of the workings of world around him, then there is much to wonder about."


I count myself in the "wonderer" category but, only through having lived a fair bit I have a scattering of knowledge based on the Aneurin Bevan formula of  "snatched from the hedgerows of experience."

That is a two edged sword unfortunately. For example I have been visiting art galleries more and more. This especially during the times I am privileged to be in major cities with a long cultural history-e.g. most recently in Vienna where I went to most of the major galleries including especially the Leopold Museum.

There is a special moment when in stands in front of an iconic painting that one has seen so often from books on art and in the general media. After the shock of recognition, similar to seeing a television newsreader of repute or a favorite sports person or actor in the flesh, there is the delight in looking in detail. 

Then follows musing on the size-either much larger or smaller than expected as the case may be, and the, often startling, difference in color from the original as compared to the reproductions. For me this was most startling when seeing Constable's "The Haywain" in the National Gallery in London. This is an immense painting in size compared to the A4 reproductions one is used to, and the depth of color, and his magnificent handling of clouds, leaves one in awe.

These years of viewing naturally leads one to reading in detail about artists one has become particulary enamoured of-such has been the case for me with Manet whose work I saw in a recent exhibition. This is where a little knowledge becomes a dangerous, or rather in this instance, a regrettable case. One would prefer to have ones illusions about artistic integrity, and more especially ones awe at creativity ex-nihilo intact, rather than see instances of absolute derivation-if not outright plagiary. But, sadly, such is life, and so are illusion shattered.

Manet was, and remains for me and for millions a great artist. However, for me his reputation, and my admiration, is now tempered by these blatant cases of derivation. This may have been acceptable in his time, but  perhaps posterity is not so forgiving or understanding.

Here is one of Manet's best known works "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe" which caused a sensation in conservative mid-19th century 2nd Empire France for its "indecent' subject matter. From our point of view it is a major gallery piece and a creative breakthrough. Unfortunately it is entirely derivative.

Illustrated here is Marcantonio Riamondi's "Judgement of Paris" and on the right is a group of river gods and nymphs. This is "clearly the original for the group in Dejeuner." Which it is of course, with the nymph's pose almost exactly the same as the picnicker.

Once might be allowable, but two trips to the well is getting a bit obvious. here we have one of the most famous paintings of all time"Olympia" which went even further than Dejeuner in titillating and scandalising.
And here is Titian's "The Venus of Urbino" described as "a prime source for Manet's Olympia" which is an beyond obvious comment. The substitution of a cat by Manet for Titian's sleeping dog only makes the comparison more obvious.
It seems that as one journey's on through life it is perhaps best to leave a little undone, and a little bit of the layers when digging uncovered-perhaps ignorance is bliss after all? 

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