In the summer of 1867, the German artist Adolph Menzel visited Paris for nine weeks. While there, he almost certainly went to Manet’s temporary pavilion, which for a few days was situated near the Universal Exhibition. The pavilion displayed around 50 of Manet’s paintings, including Music in the Tuileries Gardens (1862), also in the National Gallery’s collection.
Menzel began work on his painting of the Tuileries Gardens upon his return to Berlin. Not only was his version a response to Manet’s, it was also the first of what was to become a series of modern urban scenes. Menzel has directly quoted elements from Manet, such as the man in profile wearing a top hat and the crouching child in the foreground, but his picture is not a copy or pastiche. There are significant differences between the two in both composition and technique, and Menzel’s painting might be viewed as a rejection of Manet. Seen together, the two pictures reveal there was more than one way to depict ‘modern life’.
In the summer of 1867, the German artist Adolph Menzel stayed in Paris for nine weeks. It was his second visit to the city and it coincided with the Universal Exhibition, which ran from April until October. While in Paris, Menzel almost certainly visited Manet’s pavilion. Manet had not been invited to participate in the official fair but, following the example of Courbet – who had set up his own ‘Pavilion of Realism’ when his monumental canvas The Painter’s Studio (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) was rejected by the 1855 Universal Exhibition – he set up his own pavilion nearby. It displayed around 50 of Manet’s paintings, including Music in the Tuileries Gardens (1862). A pencil drawing in Menzel’s Paris sketchbook of the crowd at the Tuileries Gardens affirms that he had seen Manet’s picture and that it made a deep impression upon him.
Menzel began work on his own painting of the Tuileries Gardens as soon as he returned to Berlin. Not only was it a response to Manet, but it was also the first of what was to become a series of modern urban scenes. Half the size of Manet’s picture, Menzel’s work directly quotes from it. For example, the man in a top hat seen in profile leaning forward, partly covered by a tree, replicates Manet’s brother Eugène, and in both pictures a child crouches down in the foreground. Manet’s self portrait on the left edge of his picture is countered by Menzel placing himself, his top hat held behind his back, in the lower right corner of his. But Menzel’s picture is no copy or pastiche of Manet’s. The differences between the two are more telling than their similarities, and Menzel’s painting might be viewed as a rejection of Manet. Significantly, when first exhibited in Berlin in 1858, Menzel’s work was titled Sunday Afternoon in the Tuileries Gardens, from Memory, and he also added an abbreviation for Berlin after his signature to emphasise that it was not painted from life in Paris. Instead, the picture is a synthesis of vignettes or impressions, perhaps based upon observation, assembled in his studio to form a single scene.
There are important differences between the two pictures. While Manet used a frieze-like composition, Menzel has created deep paths through the trees at sharp angles to the picture plane, which open up the space and also allow him to include more figures. The foreground also tilts forward slightly to offer us an aerial view across the park towards its entrance on the rue de Rivoli. Menzel ’s emphasis on illusion and depth is very different from Manet’s on the flat surface of the canvas. In contrast to Manet’s lack of modelling, Menzel has maintained an effect of atmospheric recession, as figures in the foreground are painted in minute detail and almost tip out of the picture, while those further back are painted more freely. Manet’s picture shows people drawn mainly from a single class – the Parisian haute bourgeoisie – whereas Menzel’s picturesque realism, full of busy detail and anecdote, shows a heterogeneous crowd of various ages, classes and nationalities. Seen together, the two pictures show there was more than one way to depict ‘modern life’.
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