– By Amy Cavanaugh
Édouard Manet is best known for his realistic paintings of Parisian life, but this month the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston delves into the artist’s lesser-known medium—his prints and drawings—in Manet in Black. The French artist is considered the father of impressionism, and the show will feature 50 prints and drawings from the MFA’s holdings, along with some works on loan from private collections. The works range from 1862 to the 1880s, when Manet died.
“I went through the Manet collection when I first started here three and a half years ago,” says Helen Burnham, Pamela and Peter Voss Curator of Prints and Drawings, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. “I wrote my dissertation on Manet. We have some really exceptional prints and one exquisite drawing that’s one of his most important—Study for Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers, 1864.”
Burnham decided to do a show of Manet’s works on paper, because there hadn’t been a show of his drawings recently.
“There are more than 50 prints in the collection, and I selected a group of 44 for the exhibit,” she said. “Among the prints are very early impressions, one recently acquired in 2010.”
Burnham said that most attention has been paid to Manet’s paintings, “for good reason, because they’re extraordinary. Not as much attention has been paid to his graphic works. One of the highlights of the show is the lithographs, which are ahead of their time in boldness, execution, and experimentation. The medium is a closer to the technique he’s using in his paintings, and you get this freedom of execution, this boldness of touch. He’s a very daring artist.”
The show includes several works by other artists, including Delacroix, Goya, Degas, Rembrandt, and Bracquemond, to “give you a very good idea of Manet in context, what he was seeing and what he appreciated.”
The print by Goya is Fine Advice, which “Manet would have seen and perhaps owned an impression of,” Burnham noted. “There was a rage for Spanish art in this period, and it was very influential on Manet and other artists. That will be very clear from the comparison between Fine Advice and prints by Manet. He would have been inspired by the subject matter and the technique.”
The title is drawn from Manet’s use of the color black, which Burnham says he uses “in very interesting ways. It can be very bold, it can be very modern, it can also be very dark.”
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has six paintings by Manet in its permanent collection, and some will be on display during Manet in Black, so viewers can get a sense of his paintings as well.
Manet in Black opens February 18 and runs through October 28.