The fruits are rendered with broad sweeps of colour, and appear like luxuriant blossoms glowing in the semi-darkness. Lemon strokes highlight the large orange fruit, while planes of orange shade the lemon fruit. The pale purple plum is shaded with hatches of dark blue, while the apples and leaves are rendered in pale greens and lemons, and shaded with streaks of dark red. The brown basket wraps gently about the fruits. The entire scene is glistening and fragile, while the knife lying in the foreground reminds the viewer of the transience of the situation. The fruits will not last long and neither will the combination of light and shade that gives them their voluptuous and colourful appearance.
Manet was born in Paris in 1832 and in his youth, copied Old Master paintings in the Louvre museum. Eventually, he travelled throughout the Continent, studying the works of the great European artists. In 1856, he established his own studio. Nineteenth-century consumers of art were accustomed to buying works painted in mellow tints and with illusion created by subtle, almost imperceptible gradations of tone and hue. Alongside these paintings, Manet's characteristic bright colour and loose brushwork gave his works an unfinished, almost garish appearance. However, he soon found a following and befriended the Impressionist painters, including Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.
In spite of the radical brushwork, the Basket of Fruits painting hearkens to the traditional still life genre. In the 1600's, Dutch artists made the genre fashionable when they rejected “grand” subjects, that is, images of mythology and aristocratic life in favour of scenes of ordinary things and people. These early still life artists essayed into the natural renderings of colour and texture. The genre regained popularity in the 1800’s, but with Manet's radical techniques and setting a precedent for other artists. Manet’s most famous painting is A Bar at the Folies Bergere (1882), in which a young waitress stands behind a counter in a bar with wine bottles and a bowl of oranges upon it, hearkening to the Basket of Fruits. Other famous paintings include Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe (1862), and Music in the Tuileries (1862).