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Déjeuner sur l’herbe

Musée d’Orsay, Paris


In his Salon de 1863 contemporary critic Théodore Pelloquet objected to Manet’s uneven approach to visual description: 

“The execution [of the Déjeuner] is far from offering me sufficient compensation; it’s a rebus too: Here and there I see fragments that come close to nature, particularly in one of the naked women and one of the heads in the foreground, but that’s not enough, the rest of the picture is of a wholly inexplicable incoherence. One can’t really designate this product of Manet’s labors as an esquisse or an ébauche [as most critics, including Desnoyers, had done]. In an esquisse properly understood and properly executed, all the parts are rendered to the same degree [of finish, though Pelloquet doesn’t use that word]. [Whereas] nothing explains or justifies M. Manet’s incoherence, his inequality of execution.” 

Translated and quoted in Michael Fried, “Manet in Hist Generation: The Face of Painting in the 1860s,” Readings in Nineteenth-Century Art, Janis Tomlinson, ed. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1996), 130.


Rolf Læssøe attributes some of the unnaturalness in Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe to a desire to engage the viewer:

“It’s an engulfing painting. Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe is a programmatic painting, and paradigmatic of the ways in which Manet engaged the viewer in his works through gazes, spillings, reliefs, enigmas and so on. Here, it isn’t only the gaze of the seated nude that engages the viewer, and implicates him in the scene. The very fact that the three main protagonists exude an air, and different signs of, indoor and studio ‘behavior’ (such as a hat and unabashed nudity) puts them on a par with the painting’s beholder, who – naturally – also finds him – or herself in an interior, and an artistic interior at that (a museum, as it is, or a private collection, as it might have been), echoing the studio atmosphere of the group of three. In this way, we enter the painting, and become part of it ourselves. Inside the painting, the ‘painter-pointer’ bridges the spaces of the ‘painting-within-a-painting’ and the primary scene; this latter, in turn, provides bridges between its own space and that of the beholder, most famously, of course, in the direct gaze of the nude, but almost just as poignantly in the cornucopious still life with delicious fruit, ready for the taking.”

Rolf Læssøe, ”Edouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe as a Veiled Allegory of Painting,” Artibus et Historiae, vol. 26, no. 51 (2005): 214. 


In his review of the Salon and Salon des Refusés of 1863 Carle Desnoyers comments on Manet’s innovative technique:

“If Manet’s paintings were enveloped by their definitive form; if, in that supreme touch that closes a work by energetically signing it with a magisterial stroke, they affirmed the young master’s new principle, one would be able to believe that it was the healthy and vigorous look of this art that confounded or horrified the representatives of the worm-eaten school. Unfortunately, that’s not the case: the connoisseurs grasp with their first coup d’oeil the exceptional qualities of this admirable ébaucheur [maker of ébauches, that is, sketches], but for the public, for whom it’s necessary to dot one’s i’s ; for the Institute, which appreciates only painting that smacks of study and research, Manet’s compositions are barely able to pass, with respect to how they are rendered, as approximations.” 

Translated and quoted in Michael Fried, “Manet in Hist Generation: The Face of Painting in the 1860s,” Readings in Nineteenth-Century Art, Janis Tomlinson, ed. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1996), 129.

Similar Subjects by Other Artists:

Francisco Goya, A Picnic, 1776 (Prado, Madrid)

Claude Monet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1865-66 (Pushkin Museum, Moscow)

Pál Szinyei Merse, Picnic in May, 1873 (Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest)

Paul Ranson, The Bath, 1906 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris)

 Sébastien Vranckx, Picnic in the Garden of the Duke of Mantua, c. 1630 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen)


Web Resources:

smarthistory: Dejeuner sur l’herbe

About the Artist

Born: Paris, 23 January 1832
Died: Paris, 30 April 1883
Nationality: French