Modernity in 19th Century Art: Manet, Monet, Bazille, and Caillebotte Essays

The Impressionist movement, while one of the more commonly known movements in art history, was also one of the most radical. As with anything new, there is a foreman, and Edouard Manet was this man. Not only did Manet’s paintings make him a crucial pioneer in the Impressionist’s revolt against the Academy’s standards of art, but what made him so radical was the way he painted and what he painted, along with others like Claude Monet, Frederic Bazille, and Gustave Caillebotte. Manet’s paintings exhibit something especially radical for the art of his time in the eyes of the academy and make them essential in leading up to the rebellion of the Impressionists; their modernity of self-consciousness.

A few of Manet’s paintings, in particular, that exhibit this modern self-consciousness are Le Dejeuner sur I’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), and Olympia, although these are not Manet’s only paintings to display these modern characteristics. The first of these, Le Dejeuner, exhibits this radical new way of painting mainly in its subject matter, but also its self-consciousness. The subject matter makes this painting quite scandalous, not because the figure is naked, but because the word used to describe the figure is “naked” and not “nude.” For the art in the academy, the nude figures we called such for the fact they were rendered as ideal human forms in their natural states. In Manet’s painting, this naked female has her clothes in a heap on the ground beside her, suggesting she has purposely taken her clothes off. Along with this, she is looking straight at the viewer of the painting, giving the painting the self-consciousness that the academy had never taught. The academy paintings’ subjects are often gazing off in the distance, as if they a…

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…y were painted, and it was almost always symbolic. The deviance from this “masculine male” can be seen in Caillebotte’s paintings Man at His Bath and Man Drying His Leg. These two paintings are excellent examples of this different portrayal of males, by making them feminine. Cailebotte has painted these men in settings that gave a feminine vibe, as past painters had done similar paintings with the only difference being the subject was female. His actions in the painting are interpreted as feminine because women were more common to groom themselves, or to be painted while doing so, and their body positions do not look heroic, or even natural, whatsoever. We can see the contrast and what makes Caillebotte’s painting so radical when looking at David’s The Sabine Women and Moreau’s Prometheus, which exhibit the academic standard for masculinity, both in society and art.

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