Manet : The London Moment

En marge de l’exposition décisive que le J. Paul Getty Museum de Los Angeles et l’Art Institute de Chicago ont consacrée au dernier Manet en 2019-2020, Manet and the Modern Beauty, un colloque a permis de croiser les perspectives et les opinions à son sujet, sans que la lecture sexuée, très en vogue outre-Atlantique et très portée en France, n’y prévale. Du reste, le titre même de l’exposition, qui avait pour point de mire le portrait si féminin et si séduisant de Jeanne Demarsy (récent achat spectaculaire du Getty, notre illustration), annonçait que la logique du genre n’en était qu’une des approches possibles et, je dois dire, défendue le plus souvent avec nuances, dans l’impressionnant catalogue. Celui-ci doit au trio des brillants commissaires, Scott Allan, Emily Beeny et Gloria Groom, de confronter sans cesse l’interprétation des images et des textes (Samuel Rotary et Carol Armstrong se penchent sur la correspondance) à l’état présent des connaissances et notre rapport différentiel au XIXe siècle. Femme, fleur et image de mode indissociablement, Jeanne, que Manet exposa en 1882, exclut, par nature, les analyses binaires. Le féminin y déborde toute définition strictement féministe, l’offre picturale toute lecture banalement moderniste. C’était le propre de Manet que de séduire en accord avec ce que la mode du temps (Helen Burnham), la nouvelle littérature (Bridget Alsdorf) et les vedettes de la scène (Leah Lehmbeck) avaient désormais de problématique. Les dernières années de Manet (1876-1883), comme en écho aux préoccupations du dernier Baudelaire (celui du Spleen de Paris), voient s’accentuer les difficultés inhérentes à la poétisation de « la vie moderne ». De ses difficultés témoignent tant de peintures inachevées ou remaniées jusqu’à la fin. Ne les attribuons pas aux attaques toujours plus pressantes de la syphilis. En outre, le contexte, notamment la sortie de « la République des ducs » et l’avènement d’un régime plus conforme, voire plus favorable, à l’artiste, ne peut être écarté des déterminations qui pèsent sur l’œuvre ultime. Scott Allan nous rappelle que Manet est alors, plus que jamais, un peintre de Salon, Emily Beeny qu’il donne à son tropisme rocaille (Boucher, Chardin, Fragonard) un éclat approprié à l’époque et Gloria Groom qu’il repense la relation figures/arrière-plan à la lumière du naturalisme ambiant et du poids accru des reconstitutions d’atelier. Autant que le catalogue, l’accrochage, souvent très neuf, répondait aux multiples ressorts du dernier Manet. Des tableaux conçus pour l’espace public aux bouquets privés de 1882-1883, moins silencieux que murmurants, le parcours inspirait bien des réflexions, osait bien des relations. On ne pourra plus voir, par exemple, le singulier Portrait de Pertuiset, le chasseur de lions, comme une charge, et même une décharge potentielle, visant son modèle. Ne peut-on aller, d’ailleurs, jusqu’à corréler cette évocation oblique de l’Algérie française et les liens qui unissaient les frères Manet, depuis le Second Empire, au cercle de Jules Ferry, futur promoteur d’un système colonial éclairé ? Comme dit plus haut, le colloque, chose rare, fit entendre toutes sortes de voix et de positions. J’y évoquais le « moment londonien » des carrières convergentes de Manet et Mallarmé, liés par maintes ambitions poétiques et politiques communes au milan des années 1870. En voici le texte. J’espère ne pas y avoir trop écorché une langue qui n’est pas la mienne. SG

Manet : New Directions (8 décembre 2019, The J. Paul Getty Museum) // The London Moment (abstract)
Stéphane Mallarmé’s contributions to the British press, between October 1875 and September 1876, marked a particular time frame regarding the critical support he was giving to Manet’s career then. Both in London and Paris, the painter’s radical aesthetic had still to be asserted by all means. While Emile Zola himself proved to be less determined to do so, Mallarmé became the voice of Manet, claiming since 1874 that the latter was the leader of the French School and the modern poets’ favorite artist. By looking at Mallarmé’s letters and the articles he published in L’Athenaeum and The Art Monthly Review about art, literature and even politics, the purpose of this paper is to reexamine how Mallarmé writings shed light on Manet’s motivations, strategic moves and aesthetic shifts after the storm that Argenteuil (Tournai Museum) caused at the Salon of 1875, previous to the one it raised in London the year after. 

You may wonder why I’ve decided to return to this academic topic. Many scholars have already explored Manet’s relationship with Mallarmé during this frame of time, I mean, just after they met, became close friends and improved together their British network. Nevertheless, I’d like to reexamine two aspects of the rich and durable collaboration that this encounter made possible. My first point concerns Charles Baudelaire’s legacy and the ways it manifests itself in the early Third Republic, when my country, defeated and humiliated, felt a grave sense of loss. My second point is about the necessity that Manet and Mallarmé shared quickly to collaborate and to promote a kind of esthetic conform to what they thought were the British expectations at that time. In short, I’m going to speak about Baudelaire and the London scene as major stakes of Manet’s and Mallarmé’s partnership. To introduce both perspectives, there’s no better painting than Fantin-Latour’s Homage to Delacroix (Orsay), since it was exhibited in Paris and London before and after the death of Baudelaire (1867). Fantin’s Homage to Delacroix was first exhibited, as you know, at the Salon of 1864, on the aftermath of the great painter’s death, and in response to it. The response was, as you also know, a reparative one : the newcomers of the New Painting, through Fantin’s painting, pay homage to the one who challenged the rules before them, in terms of esthetic and art policy. On the other hand, the 1864 painting confirms the links that these painters established between Paris and London. Since he had been close to Whistler and Legros for a few years, and enjoyed many contacts with London art collectors, Fantin never lost an occasion to recall and improve this kind of connections. His Homage to Delacroix had to include initially the figure of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the leader of the pre-raphaelite group. That option might sound weird at first view. In fact, it can be easily explained. Realism was a larger banner than we think now. In November 1864, Rossetti, while he stayed in Paris, was taken to Manet’s place by Fantin, before helping Manet unsuccessfully to participate in the Royal Academy (RA) exhibitions.

In 1991, Robin Spencer published a very interesting article on this “rendez-vous manqué”. According to the letters that Fantin exchanged with Edwin Edwards, his British patron, Rossetti really disliked what he saw in Paris, from Fantin’s and Courbet’s work to Manet’s one. Legros was the sole exception he made regarding the French New Painting. In short, Fantin feared that Rossetti’s favorite French painter was Gérôme! There’s reasons to think that he was close to the truth. To his mother, Rossetti spoke of Manet’s “scrawls”, and Courbet was not better treated. Nevertheless, as we said, Dante Gabriel Rossetti supported Manet’s efforts to exhibit two paintings in London in 1865. Eventually, the RA gave up showing them. One of the two pictures was the vibrant Guitar player (New York). That was a clever choice regarding the predictable reactions of the British press, which was far from ready to face more radical works. Baudelaire, who praised the painting from the 1861 Salon, had likely to do with Rossetti’s interest in Manet. That’s also the case of Dante’s young brother, William. Marie-Héléne Girard has just discovered new evidence regarding William Rossetti’s first investigations into French avant-garde. As a start, he came to Paris in 1855 in order to cover the Paris Salon for The Spectator, a rather radical publishing in terms of politics. At that occasion, he celebrated Delacroix’s genius and Courbet’s novelty. Despite his serious restrictions concerning the French Realism, seen as too literal and less sophisticated than the pre-raphaelite painting, the two trends occupied similar positions in the art world of the 1850s. When William returned to Paris and visited the Salon of 1861, he confessed to have been struck by Legros’s Ex-Voto, as Baudelaire was. William Rossetti even wrote in his copy of the Salon booklet that Legros’ painting was “very admirable” among other remarks. The British visitor couldn’t have missed the huge sensation that Manet raised with his Guitar player in 1861. Antonin Proust was to insist on this success, Whistler, Legros and Fantin took part of it. We don’t know whether William Rossetti had time to get in touch with them in 1861. 

Still, it’s clear that Fantin had reasons to think that the Rossettis, at least the most famous one, Dante Gabriel, may take a part in the 1864 Homage to Delacroix. It’s also worth noting that William Rossetti was a remarkable reader of Modern French poetry. In 1866, he published a very extensive review of Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads where he discussed harshly the French influences that this magnificent book testified. Forgetting how Swinburne had been receptive to Théophile Gautier’s poetry and poetics, Rossetti’s review focused on Hugo and Baudelaire’s huge impact over Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads. Obviously, this baudelarian trend was a cause of discomfort to William Rossetti. On one hand, Baudelaire was a kind of genius, but a dangerous and even negative one. Overlooking the catholic and ironic duality of The Flowers of Evil, Rossetti associated Baudelaire with the darkest side of Romanticism, symbolized by Goethe’s Faust. To Rossetti, consequently, Baudelaire « is a sort of poetic Méphistophélès. […] Baudelaire, who sees the facts of the world to much the same effect as Méphistophélès, only with a poetic coloring, and express them in terms which are vivid and moving, instead of withering and dry. » We also have to keep in mind that Swinburne himself, in 1862, celebrated the second edition of The Flowers of Evil in a very positive way. His review, published in The Spectator, made Baudelaire very enthusiastic. The year after this groundbreaking article, Swinburne met Manet in Paris, in the company of Whistler and Fantin-Latour. This meeting in Manet’s studio was recalled by Swinburne in the letter that he would send to Mallarmé in July 1875. If we go back now to Fantin’s Homage to Delacroix, we can look at the juxtaposition of Manet and Baudelaire, on the left side of that painting, in a different way. Much has been recently said about the meaning of the different presences this composition offers in 1864. I modestly contributed to this debate in pointing out how Baudelaire’s circle reacted to it. In her book on Fantin’s collective portraits, Bridget Alsdorf has devoted a whole chapter to his Homage to Delacroix and to the different tensions which are visible in it.

In short, according to the 1864 critical reception, Bridget Alsdorf analyzed the painting as a realistic manifesto, built on the strong opposition of Delacroix, made visible by a false self-portrait, and his self-proclaimed followers: “The artists and writers assembled in Homage associated themselves with Realism more than Romanticism, with the notable exception of Baudelaire. But Baudelaire’s commitment to the representation of Modern life and his appreciation of Courbet’s painting, as well as his tremendous admiration for Delacroix, nonetheless made him a fitting member of the group.” This is what we can think today of Fantin’s pictorial conception. But, in 1864, Baudelaire’s presence was seen as much more problematic. Let’s turn, for instance, to Amédée Cantaloube’s review of the 1864 Salon, whose importance has been overlooked. More than a reference to the 1830 Romanticism, the author of The Flowers of Evil symbolized the baudelarian part of the New Painting for Fantin. Amédée Cantaloube was the sole art critic to have recognized it. A sincere admirer of Delacroix, Cantaloube had no special sympathy for realistic painting. On the other hand, he clearly separated Courbet´s esthetic from the New Painting’s one. Moreover, Cantaloube was perfectly able to identity all the protagonists of Fantin’s collective portrait, from Whistler (whose Dame blanche he praised) to Manet and Baudelaire. The latter, he said, was the most interesting person of the painting, but the most guilty one. What was his crime? According to Cantaloube, Baudelaire had betrayed himself with encouraging the most radical part of the new esthetic. Instead of rejecting Manet’s painting as he criticized the Courbet’s shortcomings, Baudelaire backed up the painter who scandalized the art world in 1863-1864: « Formerly gifted with a real critical sense, [Baudelaire] seems to have been enjoying himself for a few years in diminishing his own action and prestige. Blasé, it is said, by some disgust of knowing too much, he prefers to advocate the false originality, that which is obtained at the price of the debauchery of the brush and misguided imagination.” This last sentence can’t fit any new painter more Manet’s challenging style.

The year before, Manet had exhibited the first version of Lola de Valence with Baudelaire very provocative verses on the frame. From then, he would seize any occasion to stress himself this « liaison dangereuse », as some critics did until Mallarmé capitalized on it. Just remember what Alfred Sensier wrote positively at the occasion of the 1865 Salon. To him, Olympia (Orsay) is a “painting of the school of Baudelaire, [une Fleur du mal] freely executed by a pupil of Goya; the vicious strangeness of the little faubourienne, a woman of the night from Paul Niquet’s, from the mysteries of Paris and the nightmares of Edgar Poe.” “No doubt these descriptions are meant to evoke the painting’s dreamlike, literary quality”, as T. J. Clark has rightly commented this passage. I’ll come back later to Edgar Poe’s shorts stories and poetry as a fitting attribute to Manet’s painting. Let’s move on to the early 1870s, not without saying before that Manet contributed with two prints to the biography that Charles Asselineau published just after Baudelaire’s death in 1867. The successive dramas of the war of 1870 and the Commune set the new context. We also know that it pushed writers and painters from the new generation to manifest their vitality as a sign of esthetic and patriotic renaissance. There’s no surprise that Fantin-Latour proved to be very receptive to this renewed energy, notably among the young poets who turned themselves to Baudelaire. In the fall of 1871, while the country was starting to rebuild himself, Fantin’s correspondence mentions on several occasions the project of painting a sort of Homage to Baudelaire, simply called Un anniversaire. Nearly twelve persons posed for Fantin before he changed his mind and did Corner of the table (Orsay), where the memory of Baudelaire is more latent. Theodore de Banville, who spoke at Baudelaire’s funeral and was one of the editors of the poet’s Complete works, was meant to be included in Fantin’s Corner. Banville had taken the lead of the Parnassian movement to which Manet was clearly not indifferent. Manet’s contribution to the volume Sonnets et eaux-fortes, in 1869, shows that he shared the Parnassian reject of any sentimental excess and the ambition of expressing life with emotional detachment and apparent impersonality. 

In addition, Banville was quite close to the poets who replaced him in Fantin’s Corner of the table, especially the contributors to La Renaissance littéraire et artistique, where Mallarmé was to publish his first statement on Manet’s leadership in 1874. In the first issue of La Renaissance littéraire et artistique, which came out on the 27th of April 1872, Banville signed a moving article on the first occasion he met Baudelaire, at the poet’s place, in the Saint-Louis island of Paris. Art history has not paid enough attention to the role that Banville played in the promotion of the New Painting by 1872-74. Naturally, Manet took advantage of it, beyond the Banville’s verses that he associated to his controversial print of the 1872 Polichinelle. This potential caricature of Mac Mahon would confirm that Manet and Banville shared more than esthetic interests. Of course, reviewing the Salon in 1872 and 1873 for Le National, Banville celebrated Manet’s modernity in terms which couldn’t be more pleasing to the painter’s ear. Let me just remind you of what he wrote about Repose, shown at the 1873 Salon. “The other painting of M. Manet, Le Repos is an attractive portrait […] which imposes itself on the mind by an intense character of modernity; let me allow this barbarism, which has become indispensable! He [the portrait] lives in an inconspicuous, silent apartment, at the bottom of which is a confused print hung on the wall, whose colors are painfully bizarre. On a padded divan, purple in color, a woman sits, in a pose both tormented and familiar, dressed in a white muslin dress speckled, hair in the eyes, worried, of what? of life, no doubt. She holds a fan and lets her little Goya foot, with a slender shoe, show. Baudelaire had good reason to love the painting of Manet, for this patient and delicate artist is the only one who can be found in this refined feeling of modern life, bitter enjoyments and pains deliciously mixed up, which makes the exquisite originality of the Flowers of Evil. » Clearly, the poetry experts should be more careful about what were Mallarmé’s sources of inspiration before he gave a series of striking articles on Manet to the French and the British press…

What was going on in London at this very moment? In Paris, Manet was still the subject of a great deal of debates, and he just started becoming a marketable painter, thanks to Durand-Ruel and the purchase of 23 paintings in January 1872. The announce of the sale raised a big emotion in the Parisian art world. No doubt the news reached London rather quickly. Whatever, Durand-Ruel thought that the time had come to present Manet’s paintings over the Channel. And it’s what he did as soon as on March 1872, he even added The Balcony to the items from his stock. In the winter took place, at London Durand-Ruel, the Fifth Exhibition of the Society of French Artists. A few Manet, including Young lady of 1866, were on view. According to Otto Scholderer, a german friend of Fantin, Manet’s painting didn’t produce very positive reactions. That’s what he wrote to Fantin, in the early June of 1873, from London: « Manet has been successful at the Salon as you wrote to Edwards, I would like some new pictures of him; here in London, that does not please at all, we do not even find it singular, and yet there were very beautiful paintings. » Exhibiting in London had been the dream of Manet since the late 1860s. He stayed in the city for a while in August 1868, and Legros probably introduced him to the artist and photographer David Wilkie Wynfield. In Manet war correspondence, we find a letter from March 1871 where he explained to Félix Bracquemond why he intended to have a foot on the British market : “Thank you, my dear Bracquemond, for the advice you’ve sent me. But you forgot to tell me when to send and the last deadline, which is very important. I saw that the French could still send to the London International Exhibition […]. One must coin money: this sacred war has ruined me for a few years, I’m afraid. « 

The British reception of Manet’s painting got warmer in the fall of 1873 thanks to the apparent simplicity of Le Bon bock. In fact, while Fantin’s Homage to Delacroix was shown at the Society of French Artists, the Dudley Gallery, in Piccadilly, presented Le Bon Bock with a certain amount of critical success. In 2010, Nancy Locke confirmed that the critical reception was rather favourable, as it had been in Paris before: “A jovial old fellow, enjoying his pipe and glass; the face has a good deal of character”, wrote a critic. This double event coincided with the encounter of Mallarmé and Manet in Nina de Callias’ circle… At that point, they were both eager to expand their British connections, each protagonist using the other in doing so. Sometime in early October 1873, Mallarmé took the British writer John Payne, whom he recently met, to Manet’s studio in Paris. As soon as he was back, Payne asked Mallarmé to send him “a few notes on the paintings’ subjects matters that they have seen in Manet’ studio”. Do I have to insist on the fact that the subject counts in art for both Manet and Mallarmé? We are so used to thinking that the poet praised the painter’s work because it completely freed itself on any part of iconic and even semantic dimension! Published in La Renaissance littéraire et artistique in April 1874, the first crucial piece that Mallarmé wrote on Manet can’t be reduced to a formalist approach. On the contrary, Mallarmé insists on the complexity of The Railway (Washington) in terms of meaning and of misleading aspects. We face, he underlined, an important work, as deceptive as rich in suggestions for whom loves to look at. I believe, Mallarmé went on, that this canvas, untouched by the ruses and schemes of the Salon’s organizers, actually holds another surprise to them.” No one, even Baudelaire, had said something comparable regarding Manet’s semantic polyvalence. The novelty of this painting didn’t result from a lack of referentiality, it was rather based of the elusive mode of enunciation that the poet was looking for. What is at stake was not “pure painting”. Apparently, Mallarmé review pleased Manet beyond expectations: « My dear friend, Thanks. If I had a few supporters like you, I wouldn’t give a damn about the jury. Yours ever. »

The project of illustrating Poe’s Raven is in line with Manet’s reaffirmation of his own modes of expression at the time of the emerging Impressionism. On the other hand, the book was meant to revive the memory of Baudelaire and to secure a path towards London. When Mallarmé started to publish his first translations of Poe’s poetry in 1872, it was obviously a way of continuing Baudelaire’s work. They almost appeared in the very first issues of La Revue littéraire et artistique. The magnificent folio edition, as we know, contains cover design, ex-libris and four full-page illustrations by Manet. It came out in June 1875 and provoked at once positive reactions from the press, more in Paris than in London though. Juliet Wilson-Bareau and Michael Pakenham have published a few of them. They all celebrated Manet’s capacity of condensing Poe’s imagination in his suggestive prints. In Paris-Journal, for instance, one reads: “Through the apparent but carefully calculated roughness and lack of finish in the technique, through the interplay of abrupt silhouettes and threatening shadows, M.Manet has transposed from one art into another the nightmare atmosphere and hallucinations that are so powerfully expressed in the works of Edgar Poe. » The shortest notice The Raven inspired was probably the best one regarding the effect that Mallarmé and Manet wanted to cause. No surprisingly, it came from Arthur O’Shaughnessy, who had connections among many London papers and French writers, including naturally Mallarmé. O’Shaughnessy was fully pleased with Manet’s illustrations, as he confessed it in the Athenaeum, from the 26th June of 1875: “The illustrations are of very fantastic character, reminding us somewhat of the strange likenesses of Charles Baudelaire, done, we believe, by the same artist.” To O’Shaughnessy, the illustrations’ esthetic is reminiscent of what the British poet remembered to have seen in Asselineau’s book on Baudelaire. Even if the comparison is not evident on stylistic ground, O’Shaughnessy’s comment fits perfectly in. Mallarmé couldn’t expect a better one from him. Both were already in touch, and both thought of themselves as Baudelaire’s heirs. Edgar Poe offered an occasion to assert their common positions.

Eight years earlier, in a letter to his friend Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, Mallarmé had announced his intention to publish the translation of a few poems from Poe. To him, in 1867, it was like “accepting Baudelaire’s bequest”. It was not an easy one, since Baudelaire himself stressed the difficulty to turn Poe’s poetry into French words. As Pauline Galli has noted, « Mallarmé took up the challenge and focused his work on the relationship between translation and the singular notion of authorship. In fact, he references not only the author being translated, but the previous translator as well.” On the other hand, both Mallarmé and Manet were driven to Poe by the analogies that the American writer presented with their own agenda. To fully understand their common attraction to The Raven, there’s probably no better option that to explore what the Parnassian poet Armand Renaud wrote about Poe’s poetry in La Nouvelle revue de Paris in 1864, the very publication where Cantaloube published his review of the Salon that year. Renaud, already a close friend of Mallarmé, is the author of Fleur exotique, with which Manet was to be associated in Phillipe Burty’s Sonnets et eaux-fortes. Describing Poe’s poetic process, in 1864, Renaud insisted on two specifics worth noting, the concentration of effect and the apparent depersonalization: « Everyone knows, thanks to the wonderful translation of Baudelaire, the shorts stories of Edgar Poë (…) However it is the poems of Edgar Poë that contains the essence of his genius. They are short, these poems. Hardly, by putting them together, one would make a small volume. But the terrors, the vertigo, the sufferings of this strange writer are there united and increased with all the intensity, all the concentration that poetry gives to the idea, thanks to the science of words and rhythms that the cadence allows us to deploy. (…) Edgar Poë (…) possess what only the poets of the first order have: the gift of the moving description. While we see men of remarkable talent cut up without truce arabesques of style, accumulate in their works all the marvels of fairyland and produce boredom, Edgar Poë with a few stanzas transports you into a landscape awakening a hundred times more dreams than all this staging. (…) No apparent idea was expressed, but the artist has raised sensations in you that lead to ideas.”

This is not a bad definition of Manet’s painting, much better than his so-called obsession with painting just what he sees… In many ways, Argenteuil, Manet’s controversial contribution to the 1875 Paris Salon, made clear that his esthetic largely differed from the Impressionists’ agenda. From foreground to background, from the potential rococo lovers in erotic conversation to the extreme blue hue of the river, this composition, made for disturbing the Salon audience, was precisely meant to hijack what it seemed to announce though its title. This way of frustrating the spectators, his permanent desire of playing with audience expectations has been analyzed by Georges Bataille in 1955. In a less convincing Marxist perspective, T. J. Clark has emphasized Manet’s use of discontinuities. However, Argenteuil’s signs, narrative and modes of handling do fit together in a certain extent. It’s known that Argenteuil put the 1875 Salon in fire, apart from a few reviews (Burty, Chesneau, Zola, Castagnary). In good logic, Manet should have gave up the idea of showing it in London. On the contrary, Argenteuil, there called Les Canotiers, was put on view at the Deschamps gallery in April 1876. A that time, Mallarmé had already given short notices, some gossips, to the Athenaeum. This collaboration, due to O’Shaughnessy, started in October 1875. Mallarmé was supposed to send news from the art world, and so he treated in priority writers and painters od his circle, from Catulle Mendès and Banville to Manet. Unfortunately, a part of his gossips remained unpublished. Still they all show a deep involvement in Manet British strategy, which includes the painter’s friend James Tissot, with whom he has travelled in Venice in 1874. According to Mallarmé, it’s clear that Manet wanted to be seen as the new sensation from Paris. At the same time, the painter and his “agent” spared no effort to let know that the new Manet’s paintings contained “une note anglaise”. Just as his Venice paintings has Turner overtones, his Portrait of Faure (Essen) refers to Hamlet and its fantastic side. Moreover, the Parisian Lady (Stockholm) look at Tissot’s fashionable world dear to the British audience. At least, that’s what Mallarmé wanted to let know his readers. But all his efforts came to nothing.

Prior to this, Manet wrote a crucial letter to William Michael Rossetti, which was unknown before Nancy Locke published it in 2010. By March 1876, while Mallarmé launched the exhibition of Argenteuil in London, Manet responded to the journalist’s request for information. Mallarmé had put them in touch. Manet´s letter enclosed pictures of a few paintings, including Lola de Valence that he had recently transformed. The painter mentioned that the initial version of Lola, in 1863, was exhibited with a poem by Baudelaire on its frame. « Given the interconnections between painting and poetry in Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, it is not surprising that Manet chose to signal this work », Nancy Locke rightly wrote. We know now that there’s much at stake in Manet’s reference to whom he named “his friend Baudelaire”. Manet knew perfectly what he was doing when he made clear to Rossetti that his paintings echoed to The Flowers of Evil’s imaginary and mode of expression. The painter wasted his time though. Unlike Swinburne, Rossetti didn’t react positively to the illustrated Raven. He had been given a copy by John Payne, but he never reviewed the book. There’s just a few negative comments in letters. If he had known so, Manet would not have been so friendly with him. But there’s worse. In April 1876, like other British critics, Rossetti crucified Manet and his kind of “realism”: « From Manet we receive Les Canotiers; the strong, coarse, ungainly, capable picture, which made so much noise in Paris last year – the work of a leader who may perhaps someday be absolutely a master; but that day threatens to be one when the blind shall lead the blind […]. Aesthetic realism and brutal realism are two different things. » The last gossip ever written by Mallarmé never came out, it was about the book Théodore Duret, a crucial friend of Manet, had just published on the fall of the 2d Empire. It sounds as if Mallarmé, in response to Rossetti, intended to define what makes Manet’s art more sophisticated, poetic end significant that it looks to the blind : “The general views, which are not expressed by the writer, are apparent to the reader in the perfect co-ordination of facts: and thus a work which pretends to reject the whole imaginative apparatus of the old history, remains, in its firm and scholarly simplicity, a work of art of the purest scope.” Stéphane Guégan

LE PARI(S) DE CAILLEBOTTE

9780226263557Depuis le 8 novembre, le peintre des Raboteurs a pris ses quartiers au Kimbell Art Museum, après avoir triomphé à la National Gallery de Washington. Juste triomphe. La rétrospective parisienne de 1994 avait mis l’accent sur le dynamisme de ses perspectives et la conquête du plein air. Changement d’optique avec Mary Morton et George Shackelford, vingt ans plus tard : c’est la masculinité de Caillebotte, tantôt conquérante, tantôt secrète, souvent sportive, toujours sociable, que les deux commissaires privilégient avec une audace et une rigueur qui ne se combinent plus chez nous.

280px-Gustave_Caillebotte_-Man_at_His_BathHendrick Goltszius - Mars and Venus Surprised by VulcanCe faisant, le curseur s’est déplacé, et la modernité du peintre ne s’évalue plus seulement à l’aune du magistère de Degas, indéniable dans les extérieurs à personnages amorcés, ou à la lumière de la photographie des années 1850-1860 (malgré son impact certain, comme l’a rappelé Nancy Locke lors de la journée d’étude du CASVA). Formé par Léon Bonnat au sortir de la guerre de 1870 et de la Commune, double trauma pour ce Républicain né en 1848, Caillebotte ne tarde pas à entrer en compétition ouverte avec Manet dont, par ailleurs, il possédera trois tableaux insignes. Sa tentative de ramener le peintre d’Olympia dans le giron impressionniste, début 1877, se solde par un échec. Mais le symbole demeure. Il nous indique que l’élève de Bonnat, dont l’enseignement est réévalué par le catalogue, n’a qu’une obsession dans le Paris meurtri du maréchal de Mac Mahon, y réinscrire la grande peinture, celle qu’on disait d’histoire et qui entendait alors coller à l’époque et la galvaniser. Delacroix, Courbet et Manet avaient ouvert la voie à cette nouvelle énergie prosaïque où traîne, à des degrés variables, l’ancienne rhétorique profane et sacrée du grand genre. Tel homme penché à sa fenêtre se cambre à la façon d’une figure de Raphaël, tel fessier jeté impudiquement au regard réactive un poncif des maniéristes les plus outrés, tel autre prend possession de l’espace avec une virilité digne du baroque rubénien. Caillebotte n’est pas de ces peintres qui oublient d’où ils viennent et bâclent le travail par soumission à l’instant. Huysmans, qui l’a mieux compris et défendu que Zola, disait qu’il possédait l’intensité et l’imprévu de Manet, la méthode en plus.

9782754107938-001-TIl est vrai que cette peinture se maintient dans une tension permanente, et souvent désarmante, par peur du banal et crainte de déchoir. L’ombre de Manet, celle de Chemin de fer (Juliet Wilson-Bareau l’a montré en 1998), du Portrait de Zola et du Balcon, n’en diminue jamais la valeur. L’inertie, ils l’ignorent tous deux, même quand ils peignent l’attente, l’absence ou le néant. Aucune zone morte ne dépare leurs tableaux. Ils ont enfin cette façon commune de faire circuler le désir et le regard en invitant le spectateur à en chercher l’objet et le sens. Cette part voilée du tableau, et de son récit discontinu, a manifestement toujours intrigué Victor Stoichita, dont le dernier livre rapproche de l’investigation policière la démarche de l’historien et celle du regardeur, en ce qui concerne précisément l’esthétique qu’inaugurent Manet et Caillebotte. Faisant le constat de leur recours aux « regards entravés », aux figures de dos ou à peine entrevues, notre Sherlock Holmes explore le drame de la vision, ou sa thématisation picturale, qui fait le lien entre les acteurs si différents de la nouvelle peinture. Monet et Degas interviennent aussi dans l’analyse que fait Stoichita des modes par lesquels cette génération engage les figures du tableau et son public à partager l’expérience d’une réalité qui reste en partie inaccessible. Duranty, champion inspiré de Caillebotte en 1876, parlait de « l’impromptu » comme d’une des « grandes saveurs » du monde qui nous appelle. On en dira autant de ce livre à surprises. Stéphane Guégan

*Gustave Caillebotte. The Painter’s Eye, catalogue sous la direction de Mary Morton et George Shackelford, The University of Chicago Press, 60$. Voir aussi Stéphane Guégan, Caillebotte. Peintre des extrêmes, Hazan, 2021 (couverture plus bas).

*Victor Stoichita, L’Effet Sherlock Holmes. Variations du regard de Manet à Hitchcock, Hazan, 25€.

Salle époque (suite)

product_9782070115211_195x320Le 14 octobre 1940, depuis Cannes, Gaston Gallimard adresse un télégramme amical à Giono, l’un des phares de la maison, pour l’encourager à rejoindre le comité éditorial de la NRF et contribuer à son (nouveau) premier numéro. L’heure est grave… Quelques jours plus tôt, Drieu, son nouveau directeur, a écrit lui-même au Virgile de Manosque. Avec lui, Paul Éluard et Céline, l’auteur de Gilles se sent capable de relancer la machine sous un pavillon qui serait celui, tant bien que mal, de la liberté de penser et de créer, hors de tout contrôle direct des boches. Il est de bon ton d’en sourire aujourd’hui. On a tort, évidemment, comme le regretté Pascal Mercier eut le courage de l’écrire. Giono, sans rejoindre le comité, confiera quelques textes à la revue jusqu’au début 1943. Ce que nous apprend le formidable volume des Lettres à la NRF, c’est que les Gallimard, Gaston autant que son neveu Michel, se sont souvent faits les médiateurs de Drieu auprès de Giono. Autant dire qu’ils étaient persuadés de l’importance de maintenir en vie leur revue et qu’ils estimaient l’éclectisme idéologique des contributeurs, ligne de Drieu, préférable au choix de la stricte Collaboration. Giono, de même, leur semblait une caution respectable. Venu de la gauche et surtout du pacifisme, Munichois en 38 mais aussi hostile aux communistes qu’à Hitler, membre à ce titre de la F.I.A.R., comme André Breton et André Masson, continuant à chanter la terre et sa Provence sous le maréchal (il y en a que ça gêne), il crut possible de conserver sa neutralité en confiant, de temps à autre, sa production littéraire à des revues ultra (La Gerbe et La Révolution nationale) et en faisant jouer son théâtre avec succès dans les deux zones. Mauvais calcul, il sera épuré à la Libération… Qu’il ait eu conscience de la façon tendancieuse dont on utilisait sa plume ou interprétait ses positions d’avant-guerre, le volume le montre aussi. Il confirme aussi son étanchéité à toute forme d’antisémitisme, son besoin d’argent constant, sa duplicité en matière éditoriale (mettant les nerfs de Gaston à rude épreuve), son nez en matière de littérature étrangère et sa verve sudiste. Remontant la pente assez vite après 1945, il préfère la nouvelle vague (Nimier, Pierre Bergé, Bernard Buffet, l’équipe de la Table Ronde) aux existentialistes et à cette aimable fripouille d’Aragon. Les combinaisons et pressions liées au Prix Goncourt, dont Giono devint membre en 1954, colorent quelques lettres échangées avec les Gallimard parmi les plus drôles. SG // Jean Giono, Lettres à la NRF (1928-1970), édition établie, présentée et annotée par Jacques Mény, Gallimard, 26,50€.

9782081366350_cmThéoricien de l’antisémitisme nazi et même « père de l’Église du national-socialisme » (Hitler), Alfred Rosenberg a laissé le souvenir d’un idéologue inflexible. Sa froideur impressionnait ses proches qui, comme lui, ont accrédité la vision d’un homme extérieur à la mise en œuvre concrète de la « solution finale ». Rien de moins faux. Et la parution de son Journal, retrouvé en 2013 et désormais déposé au musée Mémorial de l’Holocauste (Washington), en apporte maintes preuves sinistres. Le traumatisme de la défaite de 1918 lui avait fait rejoindre le nationalisme de tendance « völkisch ». Populiste et raciste, il transforme ses convictions en livres (La Trace du Juif à travers les époques, 1920) et militantisme actif. L’inspirateur de certains passages de Mein Kampf gravit les échelons au sein du parti nazi à partir de 1923. Son domaine reconnu sera celui de l’éducation des masses. Rosenberg, architecte de formation, a des vues sur l’esthétique, inséparable du redressement pangermanique en cours… Sa chance, si l’on ose dire, ce sera la guerre, qui lui vaudra presque rang de ministre. D’un côté, à la tête de l’E.R.R., il est un des principaux responsables de la spoliation des biens juifs, œuvres d’art comme documents historiques, à Paris comme partout où flotte la croix gammée. De l’autre, l’invasion de la Russie, qui efface le pacte germano-soviétique qu’il n’a jamais digéré, lui ouvre un vaste champ d’action. Il prend sa revanche sur Goebbels et Himmler dont chaque faux-pas le met en joie. C’est là et alors, comme l’expliquent les éditeurs du Journal, que Rosenberg va radicaliser sa vision de la question juive. Face aux tueries de masse, dont il a vite connaissance, face aux civils et aux prisonniers qu’on affame par millions pour nourrir la Wehrmacht, Rosenberg va petit à petit accepter l’idée de l’éradication totale de la « non-race ». SG // Alfred Rosenberg, Journal 1934-1944, édition présentée par Jürgen Matthäus et Frank Bajohr, Flammarion, 32€

9782081365407_cmAux psychiatres américains venus l’interroger sur son collectionnisme boulimique, lors du procès de Nuremberg, Goering déclara sa flamme pour « l’art et le grandiose ». Grandiose, il le fut par le faste tapageur dont il s’entoura à partir du milieu des années 1930 ; il le fut surtout par l’étendue et l’organisation de ses rapines. Le catalogue de ses tableaux se confond, à peu de choses près, avec le catalogue de ses forfaitures. Nous aurions pu attendre longtemps l’accès aux inventaires et aux photographies qui le reconstituent. Le nouveau cadre législatif et la volonté de Laurent Fabius, patron du quai d’Orsay depuis 2012, ont donc rendu possible la publication de ce document exceptionnel. Destiné à jeter une lumière définitive sur la provenance des œuvres et le rôle des intermédiaires, voué aussi à faciliter le travail en cours des localisations et restitutions, le Catalogue Goering oblige aussi à interroger le sens des milliers d’œuvres que le Reichsmarschall amassa en ces demeures seigneuriales. Certes, comme le note Jean-Marc Dreyfus, il en allait du standing de celui qui fut longtemps le numéro 2 du régime et auquel étaient imparties, en plus d’une politique économique à grande échelle, les obligations de représentations auxquelles Hitler renâclait. Les deux hommes, liés depuis 1921, et animés d’une passion dévorante pour les maîtres anciens, croient pareillement à l’esthétisation du pouvoir. L’art, sous toutes ses formes, agit sur le réel et déculpabilise le pire. Goering et Hitler vont se disputer le fruit des spoliations. Leur rapacité s’exerce essentiellement aux dépens des collections juives, sur le territoire allemand (confiscations et ventes forcées contre droit au départ) et en terres conquises. Une moitié des cimaises de Goering avaient été tapissées de tableaux d’origine française… À Paris, les services de Rosenberg (E.R.R.) rabattent tableaux, sculptures, tapisseries, objets d’art et bijoux pour le grand carnassier de Carinhall. Celui-ci favorise, nulle surprise, les écoles du Nord, mais il affiche aussi, en nouveau Frédéric le Grand, un faible pour le rocaille français, sans crainte d’être comparé aux collectionneurs juifs dont il avala les Lemoyne, Watteau, Boucher, et Fragonard. Les rares « modernes » qui ornent ses murs montrent souvent une petite touche de sensualité flatteuse pour le maître de maison. Ainsi en est-il d’Europe et le taureau qui, bien sûr, trône dans la chambre à coucher. La toile risible est due au pinceau repenti de Werner Peiner (1897-1964), ex-représentant de la Nouvelle objectivité et de l’art dégénéré. Moins avant-gardiste que Goebbels, Goering s’aligne sur les positions de son ami Rosenberg et n’avait guère plus d’œil que lui, si l’on en juge par le nombre d’œuvres secondaires et de faux qu’abritait aussi la collection. La palme d’or, en fait de croûtes, c’est le Jésus et la femme adultère, un supposé Vermeer miraculeusement exhumé ! Il s’avéra être l’œuvre, on le sait, du faussaire Han Van Meegeren. La grande peinture s’était vengée du maréchal. SG // Les Archives diplomatiques et Jean-Marc Dreyfus, Le Catalogue Goering, préface de Laurent Fabius, Flammarion, 29€