Masked Ball at the Opera Edouard Manet Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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An artist who was never afraid to be free and unconventional with his works, Manet often boldly challenged the traditional art scene of the time.

This relative disregard for conformity is clear in his Masked Ball at the Opera piece. Edouard Manet (1832 to 1883) is almost universally regarded as the father of modern art and even during his lifetime was seen as one of the most innovative artists in his generation. What is most striking about this enigmatic work from Manet is the way the picture ends to three of its edges - a style used many times by Manet in his work but which still allures. Here, the scene does not frame its subject cleanly – with dangling legs cut off in the top of the piece and two figures curtailed to each side. It all works to gives the impression of being within the Parisian opera house as the dances, both musical and social, are taking place.

As well as showing Manet's bold style, the work is also heavily indicative of his love of Paris and the sophisticated and elegant life to which he was comfortable being a part of. The men are dressed in their finery; expensive entertainment in the form of a jester is there and the women, somewhat under-dressed relative to their male counterparts, are typically fawning to please – a clear indication as to the true intentions of such evenings. Whilst the painting is clearly a true to life representation of the times, and a glimpse into the balls that occurred in Paris in the mid to late 1800s, it is not exactly what it appears.

Painted to completion over a number of months from an initial sketch, Manet is thought to have invited many friends and socialites to model for and appear in the work. Manet himself appears in the work too. To the far right there is a blond and bearded man staring out of the picture and holding the gaze of the viewer. At the feet of this gentleman lies a dancing card, complete with the signature of the artist, who would go on to be a major influence to young impressionists and ask them to push the boundaries as he did – in this painting and in life.