Friday, November 21, 2014

The Norton Simon Museum's installation of Édouard Manet's The Railway

The Norton Simon Museum has announced a special installation of Édouard Manet’s poetic The Railway,1873, a highlight from the National Gallery of Art’s esteemed 19th-century collection. Evident in this dramatic work are Manet’s characteristic brushwork, his brilliant use of color and sense of composition, and his striking portrayal of modern life—indeed, the scene is set near the bustling Gare Saint-Lazare. Its installation at the Norton Simon Museum marks the first time the painting has been on view on the West Coast. It will be installed in the Norton Simon’s Impressionist Art Wing from Dec. 5, 2014, through March 2, 2015.

Édouard Manet, French, 1832–1883 The Railway, 1873 Oil on canvas National Gallery of Art, Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer, 1956.10.1.

About “The Railway”

Édouard Manet’s remarkable masterpiece, ―The Railway‖ of 1873, brings us face to face with a formidable young woman, who regards us without a warm welcome, but rather a cautious acceptance. Her finger marks her place in the book before our intrusion, and the fact that she keeps it there is a sign that she encourages us to take our leave momentarily. Our interpretation of her inscrutability quickly gives way to one of the first of many evident contradictions in the image: a small brown and white puppy who dozes comfortably in the warmth of her lap. The woman’s other companion, a young girl, chooses to ignore our entrance as she gazes, transfixed, at the ferocious urban comings and goings that serve to set this small residential terrace and its current inhabitants in one dreamy world across from another just yards away, on the rue de Saint-Pétersbourg.

Visitors to Manet’s studio at 4 rue de Saint-Pétersbourg often remarked that his floors and windows shook with every train pulling in or out of the nearby Gare Saint-Lazare. By the time that Manet moved to this new studio, Paris had experienced a two-decade, stunning rejuvenation at the hand of Baron Haussmann, who under Napoléon III oversaw this urban renewal and remodeling of Paris. Manet—a Parisian through and through, always dressed impeccably and with great flair—embraced this modernization and all its amenities. However, he chose to reveal his forever-changed city in depictions of its daily life, with its denizens of all classes and neighborhoods, in all its beauty and depravity.

Manet did not have to travel too far afield to find inspiration for ―The Railway.‖ He merely crossed the elevated Place de l’Europe and walked to the home of his friend, Alphonse Hirsch, whose own studio was in a building directly across from Manet’s on the rue de Rome. It is there that one of his favorite models, Victorine Meurent, posed for Manet’s first sketches for this painting in a fashionable deep-blue dress and black hat, while the daughter of Hirsch, who portrays the younger girl, surveyed intently something now lost in the steam of a train. A seemingly incongruous bunch of grapes—a richly painted still life on its own—sits momentarily abandoned on the ledge. Did Manet intend for us to read this gorgeously painted scene as one of a mother and child, as an older sister with her sibling or as a governess with her young charge? Are we to see disparity in the rich, blue bow that encircles the young girl’s waist and the hard, concrete reality of the city beyond? Perhaps this is Manet’s statement on the duality of life, or the loss of youth, having reached the age of 40 when he began work on this picture. Or just maybe it is the arched wooden door of Manet’s new studio that captures the attention of the Hirsch fillette