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Manet's paintings have a curious underwater tint to them, as though they are memories seen through a dream.
Madame Manet in the Conservatory, 1879, is no different, the fast brush strokes that render her hands and the background foliage offering the idea of hands and leaves rather than their actuality.
Her face, however, is picked out in loving detail, and the kindness of her face is as clearly seen as though the portrait were a photograph.
Many of Manet's paintings feature this merging of hasty, almost slapdash style with near photographic precision. Manet was something of a controversial figure in his time, making ironic statements within his pieces that challenged commonly held views and misplaced 'understandings'.
His Olympia, a surprisingly delicate – yet bold – portrayal of a proud prostitute, is packed with sexual imagery, and yet subverted the view, held at the time, that people of colour were highly sexual, by having a black servant appear in the picture with Olympia, but fully clothed compared to Olympia's full nudity.
Madame Manet is lovingly portrayed, a hint of awkwardness showing on her expression and the hands clasped protectively over her tummy, making the image seem to be like an unexpected snapshot, capturing a certain self-conscious shyness on the part of the subject along with a willingness to sit for this painter, her husband.
He painted his wife many times, often in everyday poses, sitting casually or playing the piano. These pictures offer a small fascinating glimpse into what life was like in the mid- to late-1800s.
Manet had many critics in his own time, who abhorred his 'unfinished' style. Manet was a pioneer of the Impressionist style which employs blurs and shapes to suggest backgrounds and images to the viewer, usually from a distance.
Impressionist paintings are often disappointing up close, a mass of splashes and shapes that do not make any sense. That is, until the viewer stands back a bit and examines the picture from afar, taking in the whole image and seeing the depiction 'pop' into clarity.
Manet's paintings are popular because they represented a new way of painting, they were deceptively hasty while demonstrating great artistry, and because they portrayed people in everyday situations and poses, rather than the very stiff formality of the previous Realist style.