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Modernism and the Visual Arts Essay

Originally titled as Le Bain, means the bath; Luncheon on the Grass was exhibited at the Salon de Refuses in 1863. It is painted with oil on a large canvas by Édouard Manet created in between 1862 and 1863. The painting represents the contrast between a female nude with fully clothed men in a rural setting. By that time, normally woman in paintings didn’t look at viewers straight, especially with nudes. Traditionally, nude models mostly looked away from the view.

But however, Manet’s naked female model straightly stares at the viewer. This was shocking, but also challenging at the same time. The Luncheon on the Grass, received a great attention by causing public scandal with nude female and painting was success through setting, color, technique, composition and light. Luncheon on the Grass brought in much argument at its reveal.

From this painting, the viewer is provoked by a naked female directly looking at the audience. By this time, this naked woman was obviously politically improper and especially, woman looking at the viewer as unashamed was totally unbelievable and offensive in a male-controlled, conquered society. This was the main reasons why it was forbidden and got teased from the public. Not only because picture of the naked female, but it was a commentary, and arguable as well. Painting it makes seem usual, and normal, besides something with sexualized.

However, the two fully clothed men are not looking directly; it is only the naked female who grabs attention to be focus of the painting. Once again, the setting is very unusual, and it is unique. It seems like the models are just posing instead of having lunch together. The picnic basket lies on its side in the corner without any attention, and also the naked female has been completely left out along. The woman in far back in lake also seems left out from the lunching group too. None of these people seems gathered in the nature. However, some critics have inferred the painting as oddness with compositional sense, but it is delightful with the thought of the illusory.

Manet’s use of color was influenced by the Impressionist movement, and it led the painting successful. Manet’s color use is combined with a very practical theme. He used mostly dark colors for the foreground such like dark greens, orange-browns and blacks for outlines. He also broke up of the movement of figure to add reality. Manet also inserted element of still life which is picnic basket in the bottom left corner of the painting. It subsidizes an added level of color. What is interesting in this painting is that he limited to use warm colors.

And instead of having soft brush strokes and color mix, he uses vivid outlines around the figure. This concept lets the figure pop out of the landscape. Looking at the female figure, Manet painted in a flat tone with very little shading to capture the moment. The painting contains flat areas of color, and even in some places, Manet left it as a bare canvas. With limited of shading and contrast using of cool and warm colors prevent the tradition of depth and volume; also cause viewer’s attention to the surface of the painting.

Manet’s light source through the painting was also interesting. This impression era is covered by the use of broad and detailed light source, which limits almost no shadows. However, the lightning in this scene of painting is unreliable and unusual. Compare to the two clothed men, the nude female takes the spotted light. She almost has no shadows besides strong outlines. Also because the two clothed men are wearing dark clothes, the nude female obviously pops out from the background and grabs viewers’ attention. I can see where the light hits in different areas, but the nude female takes the main light source, and therefore, the landscape background smoothed out the light.

Tradition to this time era, Manet’s techniques were extraordinary and brush strokes become much less developed. Most of his brush strokes have been done in free handed. Focusing on the nude female, her skin is not smoothed out with value of color and brush techniques. Also the background is containing a rough brush strokes. During this time period, most of the artists are hiding brush strokes for their technique, but Manet did the opposites. It is obvious to see each brush stroke in nude female giving a rough complexion. In the background, also this style of rough brush strokes are made noticeable, and this even seems unfinished. Manet was free with technique.

He did not try to hide or to follow the trends; indeed, some scenes in the painting seem unfinished. Through the composition, the figures are positioned in central. The interesting thing is that through this composition, I can draw myself a direct pyramid from. From the foreground nude female figure rises up to the lady in the water. With this compositional sense, attention falls between the two men. Men seem very odd and just stuck to be posing because compare to the women two men seems very dull and not interested in. They were not paying attention to the woman, and also not gathered at all.

None of the figures seems relaxed. Rather than posing natural in the nature, these figures give tightness look. However, Manet successfully balanced the light against dark, use of cool color background and well blends the nude figure with warm tone, covers up the oddness and conveyed as successful painting. To sum up, Manet’s Luncheon on the grass is with mystery, oddness and wonder. He detailed his idea to the work, and all the elements he included in this painting lead great result follow in 1863. As an impressionist, Manet earned great media attention by causing public scandal and painting was success through setting, color, technique, composition and light.

Artist: Édouard Manet
Title: The Luncheon on the Grass
Date: 1862 and 1863
Medium: Oil paint


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