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Edouard Manet, The Execution of Maximilian

Key facts
Full title The Execution of Maximilian
Artist Edouard Manet
Artist dates 1832 - 1883
Date made about 1867-8
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 193 × 284 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1918
Inventory number NG3294
Location Room 44
Collection Main Collection
The Execution of Maximilian
Edouard Manet

Ferdinand Maximilian was enthroned as a puppet emperor of Mexico in 1864 with the support of Emperor Napoleon III of France. However, Napoleon III reneged on his military support. Captured in May 1867 by nationalist Mexican and Republican forces, Maximilian and two of his generals were executed by firing squad on 19 June that year.

Manet was outraged by the death of Maximilian, who was widely viewed as a victim of Napoleon III’s political ambition and incompetence, and decided the execution merited artistic treatment on an epic scale. This damaged painting is the second of four versions he painted between 1867 and 1868. He probably abandoned this version because of discrepancies in the size of the figures. A photograph taken in 1883 shows the left-hand section of the canvas had been removed and the picture damaged elsewhere. After Manet’s death, his family cut up the canvas and sold individual fragments separately. Surviving fragments were acquired by Degas and bought by the National Gallery in 1918. They were finally combined on one canvas in the late 1970s.

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