In 1880, a man named Charles Ephrussi purchased A Bunch of Asparagus from Manet. Manet charged the painting at eight hundred francs, but was sent one thousand francs by Ephrussi. Manet, a man with a quick wit, painted this picture of a lone spear of asparagus, and sent it to Ephrussi with a note that read, "there was one missing from your bunch". The story is one that humanises Manet, that makes him a real person who had to work for a living, sold his paintings, but who also had a sense of humour.
All throughout the 1880's, Manet would send small paintings to his friends as gifts, and they would almost always include comical little notes or tender addresses from the artist. The lone asparagus spear in this painting lays on the same marble worktop that the 'mother' painting, A Bunch of Asparagusis depicted upon. It is not a still life painting, but rather a joke from the artist to his patron, or a short break between larger works. Even so, it is beautifully painted. The counter that it lays upon contains the characteristic grey striations of white marble, while the asparagus spear itself is almost teetering on the edge, a mere inch from falling to the floor, while the end of the spear casts a pale shadow on the marble's edge.
The asparagus itself is a perfect specimen. Straight and pale along the shaft, while the tip is a deep green, it promises to be tender and succulent. The colours of the asparagus are so pale that they would blend into to marble, rendering the spear almost invisible, if it were not for the overhanging end, casting its shadow and letting itself be seen. This small detail gives a slight truth to the story behind the creation of the painting; it would be easy to imagine a lone spear becoming lost on the marble side, invisible until one moved in for a closer look, giving a certain intimacy to the small, lovingly rendered painting.