National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Still Life with Melon and Peaches Edouard Manet (artist)
French, 1832 - 1883
Still Life with Melon and Peaches, c. 1866
oil on canvas
overall: 68.3 x 91 cm (26 7/8 x 35 13/16 in.) framed: 96.8 x 119.4 x 8.9 cm (38 1/8 x 47 x 3 1/2 in.)
Gift of Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer
1960.1.1
On View
From the Tour: Manet and His Influence
Object 3 of 8

Manet is known overwhelmingly for his paintings of people, but he called still life "the touchstone of painting," and it accounts for about twenty percent of his work. Most of his still lifes, like this one, were painted in the 1860s. At the time, still life enjoyed great popularity among the bourgeois citizens of the Second Empire. Dining rooms were filled with depictions of lush bouquets and lavish repasts that suggested their owners' comfortable lives. Bourgeois tastes tended toward the finely detailed and highly finished work of more conventional artists, however. A satirist looked at Manet's painting when it was exhibited in 1867 and remarked, "I do not know much about melons, but this one seems past its prime."

What contemporary viewers did not like in Manet's painting is precisely what attracts us today: its bold style. Sudden transitions of color—not a gradual modulation of tone—give shape to the objects. Each brushstroke stands independently. They rivet attention on the canvas surface, on the painting itself. The simple tabletop assemblage does not point, either, to any meaning outside itself. Manet's arrangement stands on its own terms, without allegorical allusions—common in earlier still lifes—to abundance or the transitory nature of life. Although his work harkens back to Dutch banquet pictures from the seventeenth century, it has a distinctly modern feel.

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