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8 - You Cannot Be Serious: The Conceptual Innovator as Trickster

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

David W. Galenson
Affiliation:
University of Chicago
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Summary

The Accusation

The artist does not say today, “Come and see faultless work,” but “Come and see sincere work.”

Edouard Manet, 1867

When Edouard Manet exhibited Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe at the Salon des Refusés in 1863, the critic Louis Etienne described the painting as an “unbecoming rebus,” and denounced it as “a young man's practical joke, a shameful open sore not worth exhibiting this way.” Two years later, when Manet's Olympia was shown at the Salon, the critic Félix Jahyer wrote that the painting was indecent, and declared that “I cannot take this painter's intentions seriously.” The critic Ernest Fillonneau claimed this reaction was a common one, for “an epidemic of crazy laughter prevails…in front of the canvases by Manet.” Another critic, Jules Clarétie, described Manet's two paintings at the Salon as “challenges hurled at the public, mockeries or parodies, how can one tell?” In his review of the Salon, the critic Théophile Gautier concluded his condemnation of Manet's paintings by remarking that “Here there is nothing, we are sorry to say, but the desire to attract attention at any price.”

The most decisive rejection of these charges against Manet was made in a series of articles published in 1866–67 by the young critic and writer Emile Zola. Zola began by declaring that those who laughed at Manet were fools: “There isn't the least thing laughable in all this. There is only a sincere artist following his own bent.”

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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