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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Monet, Manet

Several years ago there was an exhibit in Washington D.C. at the National Gallery featuring the work of two of the greatest artists France ever produced, and two that have kept would-be art appreciators heads spinning for at least a century. The show features paintings done in and around Paris' first train station Gare St. Lazare (pronounced Gar San LaZAR) by Eduoard Manet and Claude Monet. Even back then people confused the names. Stories tell of Manet's dismay at receiving a check made out to Monet. He might well have given the check to Monet since he came from a family of wealth and quite likely didn't really need the money. Monet, on the other hand, was poor most of his life, and in fact, there is some evidence Manet even helped the younger artist financially. Why not? Nearly everyone else did.     

Gare Ste. Lazare, 1872-73, Eduoard Manet
In spite of their differences (Manet was eight years older than Monet), there was a great deal of respect on the part of the older artist for the young, Impressionist upstart. Manet even owned several works by Monet (possibly accepted in exchange for debts owed). Monet repaid his debts in more than paintings, however. After Manet's death in 1883, Monet saw to it that the French Government purchased Manet's controversial Olympia for the Louvre. The differences between the two artists were inherent in the exhibit. Unlike Monet, Manet had no great love of trains or train stations. Monet did numerous paintings from within St. Lazare, while Manet painted only one painting even near the train station. (Even though his studio was within spitting distance of the station.) He once proposed painting a locomotive and its crew but once it became apparent he was more interested in the crew than the locomotive, the project fell through. Manet always preferred people to things.   
Gare Ste. Lazare, 1877, Claude Monet

Monet, on the other hand, set up his easel among the crates, baggage, hustle, and bustle of the train station then waited patiently for those or that which might be obstructing his view to move. He claimed it was much like painting clouds, they too weren't always cooperative. Actually, it would seem that what fascinated Monet as much as anything about St. Lazare was not the trains or the station itself, but the clouds, not in the sky, but clouds of steam and smoke billowing up from the heavy machinery within the glass-roofed structure. Here, in this sooty, confined atmosphere he was painting a new form of subject matter, one that had been handled by no another artists before. So if you're trying to keep the two artists straight in your mind, remember; Monet painted the trains; Manet painted those who rode them. If that doesn't help, don't despair, a visitor to the Washington show was overheard to remark knowledgeably that either spelling is correct.                      

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