Modern Paris

The Tragic Actor (Rouvière as Hamlet)
Edouard Manet, The Tragic Actor (Rouvière as Hamlet),
1866, 1959.3.1

Many innovative styles emerged throughout the 1850s and 1860s, with the rougher techniques of realist painters blazing the way toward the informal compositions and loose brushwork that characterized much output from this period forward. Artists explored new methods of applying paint and color to generate vivid, compelling effects. Edouard Manet began capturing the public’s attention with his Spanish-themed works, influenced in part by frequent trips to the Louvre where he copied old masters like Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya. But critics soon began attacking his treatment of paint – calling it inartistic and unfinished – and his subject matter – deeming it inappropriate or inconsequential. Fazed, but determined, Manet developed his technique and painterly brio, distinguished by bold and spontaneous brushwork and paint that was not blended, but rather laid down in touches side by side. He became a leader of the avant-garde and a critical figure in the development of modern art in Paris.

Artists had new subject material close at hand: a fresh and revitalized Paris. In 1853, Napoleon III appointed a new city official, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who initiated a renewal project that turned Paris into a modern urban center. From an essentially medieval city, Paris became, in a matter of years, a well-organized capital with wide boulevards, regulated architecture, new parks and standardized public areas, and extended railway lines. The transformation intrigued many artists, including Camille Pissarro and Auguste Renoir, who were inspired and dazzled by the crowded streets and metropolitan scene. Some, like Manet, were more ambivalent about the modernized city, noting a sense of anonymity and dislocation that came along with the transformation.

The Dead Toreador Young Woman with Peonies Pont Neuf, Paris The Railway Boulevard des Italiens, Morning, Sunlight