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Edouard Manet was the last great French artist to use the colour black until Matisse, and he used it expertly.
Black was not simply the absence of light or colour, as it is for so many other artists. For Manet, black was a palette all of its own, with different shades, tones, and textures. In The Interval at the Opera Garnier, Manet showed his mastery of black. The suit of every man in the room is black, as is all of the ladies masks and many of their cloaks. Yet the observer is still able to see the flow of the fabric, the texture of it, each fold and ruffle. He uses grey highlights to make every item of black clothing realistic and three dimensional in his characteristic wide, carefree strokes.
As with many of his pieces, Manet includes people of every social standing in the same room. Amid the well-dressed men and respectable masked ladies are women of lower social standing and questionable morality, brightly dressed and with bare calves. The legs and bright red boots of one such woman can be seen at the very top of the painting as they dangle from the ornate balcony, making one wonder why she is in such a precarious position in such a crowded area. Next to her, another pair of legs appear to be crossed while their owner leans on the balcony railings, presumably to observe the goings on below.
The floor at the bottom of the canvas is particularly interesting. It is not pristine, but is littered with several items. A black mask, removed and carelessly discarded, lays near the bottom left corner, the only area of the entire painting that does not feel crowded. At the bottom right corner lays a dance card that appears to have been ripped in to, one half of which holds the artist's signature. Manet sketched this image while attending the opera, and spent months painting it in his studio afterwards. While he added the faces of many of his friends to the painting, as well as his own, it is a piece in motion; the viewer is acutely aware that there are things going on all around the artist, and that this is only one captured moment, and that the next is going to be as lively and as jovial as this one.