National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Tragic Actor (Rouvière as Hamlet) Edouard Manet (artist)
French, 1832 - 1883
The Tragic Actor (Rouvière as Hamlet), 1866
oil on canvas
overall: 187.2 x 108.1 cm (73 11/16 x 42 9/16 in.) framed: 216.6 x 138.4 cm (85 1/4 x 54 1/2 in.)
Gift of Edith Stuyvesant Gerry
On View
From the Tour: Manet and His Influence
Object 6 of 8

Philibert Rouvière stands before us as he did before Parisian theatergoers as Shakespeare's melancholy prince of Denmark, isolated on stage during one of the play's great soliloquies. The actor, who had been trained as a painter, modeled his portrayal of Hamlet on engravings of scenes from the play by Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863). Although critics were pleased with Rouvière's highly pitched, emotional performance, the public was not. He ended his career destitute and discouraged and died shortly before Manet completed this portrait.

There was a long French tradition of painting actors in their most famous roles, but Manet's Rouvière may also owe something to a work by Velázquez that Manet saw in Spain, where he had gone in 1865 following the controversy stirred by Olympia. Here, as in Velázquez' painting, only the angular shadows cast by the actor's legs anchor him to the ground; we concentrate only on the particulars of his posture, expression, and the minimal props around him. His costume is an orchestration of blacks—glossy and flat, tinged with blues, greens, or browns—applied with the kind of energetic brushstrokes that Manet admired in the work of Velázquez, whom Manet once praised as the "painter of painters."

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