Several Edouard Manet's pictures represent standing characters with, behind, practically empty set.
The painted character is only held in the space. So, are the Fife player and the Drinker of absinthe.
Watteau had too, 150 years earlier, makes characters "float" in the space, it is there so of Gilles and the Indifferent.
Nothing in the picture is there to hold them, nevertheless they stand
straight ahead and are indeed in balance.
Manet discovered the Gilles de Watteau at Louis La Caze little before 1860. He sees also the
Clubfooted boy of Ribera, the other standing character there.
Another essential person visits the collection of Louis La Caze, Théophile Thoré, brilliant art historian. Thoré writes on this rich collection:
" All the schools, in copies extremely artists "
Gilles - Antoine Watteau - 1718
Our Pierrot, up, leans on a simple composition.
The rabatment of the sides of the rectangle organizes the picture. One diagonal
(in blue) of the picture cut a diagonal of a square and so bound the vertical line (in yellow) which
will serve as axis maintaining standing Gilles.
So by continuing, we could bound in the same way trees and other minor characters.
75 years earlier, Ribera painted his Clubfooted boy, picture so present to La Caze.
The one, the in good health, is melancholic. Other one, disabled, laughs...
The Clubfooted boy - Ribera - 1642
The same composition was used by Ribera.
The vertical axis on which leans the young man is found in the same way as for Gilles.
A vertical line (in green) in the intersection of diagonals gives the height of the character by the determination by the determination
of two horizontal lines (in green)
... I have tried to show that between 1859 and 1863 Manet was deeply and almost continuously involved with Watteau,
and that his reference to the Gilles in the Old Musician should be seen as an acknowledgment of that involvement.
Manet was not alone in seeing Watteau as essentially realistic. As early at 1847 Paul Mantz had argued that Watteau, Chardin, and Boucher
had painted their contemporaries truly. But the man who more than any other had advocated this view of Watteau’s art was the great critic,
connoisseur, and pioneer art historian Théophile Thoré.
Thoré’s interpretation of Watteau’s art parallels Manet’s use of that art in the Old Musician. It is also true that Manet’s sense of
the compatibility of Watteau and realism is manifest in his first ambitious painting, the Absinthe Drinker of 1858-59, and seems to
have been one of the basic givens of his vision. But in Thoré’s articles on the boulevard des Italiens exhibition of 1860, as well
as in his books and essays of the late 1850s and early 1860s, Manet found what he would have considered further sanction for his own
intensely personal vision of Watteau’s art. It goes without saying that Thoré’s writing could not have had that power had it not been
the product of one of the finest pictorial intelligences then at work. (Which is only a way of saying that the sanction Manet created
for himself in the art of the past, and the sanction he found created for him by the most serious art writers of his time, were finally
the same.) In fact, I regard it as questionable whether without Thoré’s sanction Manet would both have acknowledged publicly his involvement
with Watteau and have declared publicly his commitment to realism in the same painting, as I have claimed he did in the Old Musician.
|Extracts of : Manet's modernism, or, The face of painting in the 1860s, Michael Fried
Now comes Manet, profoundly inspired by these paintings.
At first, the drinker of absinthe.
Drinker of absinthe - Edouard Manet - 1859
Always the same simple principle of composition.
Unlike the previous paintings, Manet wanted that the axis of the drinker is in the middle of the picture.
By the same process as Ribera, we can find also the size of the man, the position of the wall or the bottle...
The drinker of absinthe meets as before in the Old musician, about whom speaks Fried.
We find also the Gilles de Watteau, in a little bit awkward boy there.
The old musician - Edouard Manet - 1862
Let us reuse the rabatment of sides..
Let us add the diagonals of the picture.
Let us draw some horizontal lines in the intersections which are going to place heads and certain feet.
In the crossings of horizontal lines and of diagonals, we find vertical axes (in yellow) of the boy Gilles and the drinker.
A very precise vertical axis in connection with the geometry of the picture is of use every time of
solid structure to these characters and make them stand in the pictorial space which surrounds them.
And the Indifferent, then?
We had forgotten him.
The Indifferent - Antoine Watteau - 1717
Always the same simple principle.
The axis of the Indifferent is also the middle of the picture. What imports him to choose a side or the other one? It is equal.
Here is come the end, the man curtseys on tiptoe and is going to leave us in the evanescence...
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