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Manet and Civil war

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  • Edouard Manet and "Civil War"Author(s): Jacquelynn BaasSource: Art Journal, Vol. 45, No. 1, Manet (Spring, 1985), pp. 36-42Published by: College Art AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/776873Accessed: 02/11/2008 13:38

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  • Edouard Manet and "Civil War"

    By Jacquelynn Baas

    In considering any form of artistic expression, we must address the

    question of production: "Why does this work look the way it does?" A useful answer often requires an aggressive con- textual inquiry. This is especially true of prints emerging from nineteenth-cen- tury publishing circles, where the inten- tions of art, journalism, and illustration were often interrelated. One reason for producing a work of art in the form of a print-an "exactly repeatable pictorial statement"'-was to make a calculated venture of public communication. (Cal- culated, for instance, because some print mediums are "more public" than oth- ers-a fact that refers us to existing conditions of printing technology and publishing practices.) Inquiring into the circumstances of such a work, we may discover parallel forms of communica- tion that contain clues to lost meanings and intentions. Edouard Manet's 1871 lithograph Civil War (Fig. 1)2 is an unusually rich example because of the availability of contemporary accounts of the Paris Commune, which is its subject. Here I shall situate Civil War within a cluster of visually interrelated works, drawing on the available biographical and historical evidence to suggest a new interpretation of Manet's print. In the process it should become evident that contextual perspectives can shed a use- ful light on formal aspects of Manet's work.

    Most of Manet's prints were etchings executed during the early 1860s. He

    ,employed this traditional print medium principally to restate the compositions of his paintings. Towards the end of the 1860s, however, Manet increasingly turned to lithography, a more direct medium that stimulated him to produce independent graphic statements, often

    Fig. I Manet, Civil War, 1871, lithograph, 151/2 x 20" (image). Hanover, N.H., Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Purchase from the Julia L. Whittier Fund Pr.955.1 10.

    with social and political subjects. It is easy to understand the appeal lithogra- phy would have held for an artist like Manet. Etching, with its painstaking processes of biting and rebiting, was more suited to a caustic and restlessly experimental artistic temperament like that of Degas than to Manet's flaneur aesthetic.

    There is evidence, moreover, that Manet was attracted to lithography for reasons beyond its ease of execution. As Nils Sandblad has pointed out, Manet seems to have associated the medium with popular art and to have intended

    the prints thus produced for a large audience.3 In this realm, Daumier was an obvious model. Manet's earliest litho- graph (Harris 1), published in Diogene in April 1860, was a caricature very much in the Daumier tradition. His next works in this medium were executed in 1862. Two of them ornament sheet music (Harris 29, 32). Another-The Balloon, Manet's first important litho- graph-depicts a popular entertainment in a manner that resonates with social meaning.4 Besides the 1871 Civil War, other lithographs in which Manet invested potent political comment in-

    36 Art Journal

  • clude The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian'of 1868 (Fig. 2), The Bar- ricade of 1871 (Fig. 3), and Polichinelle of 1874 (Harris 54, 71, 80 respectively). All three will help us interpret Civil War.

    Ironically, the factor that made lithography suitable for works with a social or political message-its capacity for large editions-resulted in small or nonexistent editions for most of Manet's lithographs during his lifetime. Unlike etching, for which Manet could rely on the assistance of friends like Felix Brac- quemond and Henri Guerard in the preparation and printing of his plates, lithographic printing required the ser- vices of professional printers employed by publishers who not only liked to be paid in advance but were also bound by harsh government censorship laws. The tribulations attending Manet's at- tempted publication of The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian provide a case in point. Not only was the printing as well as the publication of this litho- graph forbidden, but the publisher, Lemercier, initially refused to return the stone to Manet. Instead he tried to bully the artist into allowing the stone to be defaced. Manet succeeded in rescuing his work only by waging a public cam- paign in the art press.5

    Although Manet probably executed The Barricade and Civil War soon after the "bloody week" of May 21-28 that ended the Paris Commune in 1871, the public trauma and government embar- rassment associated with this event pre- vented publication of The Barricade during Manet's lifetime and delayed publication of Civil War until February 1874.6 Like the publication of Polichi- nelle in June of 1874, the publication of Civil War may have been linked to Manet's disgust at the election of Mar- shal MacMahon-who had led the ruth- less suppression of the Commune-as President of the Republic in 1873. Poli- chinelle, which was suspected of being a caricature of the Marshal, was sup- pressed by the government.7 That Civil War escaped censorship can only be attributed to the carefully contrived neutrality of its imagery. Manet's visual reminder of the Commune could not be overt if the print was to reach its audience. Surely, to ignore this con- straint on Manet's artistic language does an injustice both to the artist and to our understanding of the work.8 The circumstances of censorship require a more active scrutiny, heightening our alertness to the subtleties of the visual clues Manet gives us.

    Civil War is Manet's finest litho- graph, and it may be his greatest

    Fig. 2 Manet, The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian, 1868, lithograph, 13'/8 x 17" (image). Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Rosenwald Collection, 1947. print. Texturally, he has confidently exploited the expressive, calligraphic possibilities provided by the sharpened end of a greasy lithographic crayon on smooth stone, as well as the gritty, tonal capabilities of its flat side. One can almost reconstruct the exact size and shape of the chunks of crayon with which Manet worked, so graphic are his strokes. Delicate lines and flicks have been scratched through the texture of the crayon in the darker areas, allowing the white of the paper to gleam through. All this is typical of Manet's manner of working. Here, however, in concert with the multiple directions created by the crayon strokes, the graphic texture of the crayon imparts a disturbing sense of agitation to an otherwise serene composition.

    Significantly, Theodore Duret re- called that "the scene was not 'com- posed.'" "Manet actually saw it," Duret states, "at the corner of the rue de l'Arcade and the boulevard Males- herbes. He made an on-the-spot sketch of it."9 Leon Rosenthal has pointed out that the location mentioned by Duret identifies the colonnade and iron fence depicted sketchily behind the barricade as the Church of the Madeleine. Rosen- thal then interprets the presence of the Madeleine as a sacred rebuke to the violent scene for which it served as back- drop. How easy it would have been, he argues, for a less reticent artist to "op- pose the serenity of the stones and the protest of religion with human bar- barity." In contrast, Rosenthal suggests,

    Manet placed his entire emphasis on the blunt fact of the dead soldier, who bears an unmistakable resemblance to Ma- net's own Dead Toreador of 1864.10 (Manet had made an etching of this painting in 1868 (Fig. 4), three years before the date of Civil War, Harris 55.) These are useful perceptions. My pur- pose here is to place them in a denser field of visual and historical reference, from which some important qualifica- tions will emerge.

    A key work in this context is The Barricade (see Fig. 3), which was exe- cuted at the same time as Civil War but not published until after Manet's death. Manet obviously based its composition on that of his own earlier lithograph The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian (see Fig. 2). Though reversed and slightly smaller in scale, the firing squad in The Barricade is identical to that of The Execution of Maximilian. In effect, this reinforces the import of Manet's allusion to the French govern- ment's responsibility for the execution of its puppet-emperor by paralleling it to the crime against its own citizens in The Barricade." The se