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In the last few years of his life, Edouard Manet was confined to a wheelchair, and, as a result of this, took to using pastels instead of oil paints, as he found the pastels easier to manage at the time.
Because of this, almost all of his larger works towards the end of his life are rendered in pastel. His portrait if George Moore is one such piece. Measuring 55.2cm x 35.2cm, it is unusual in that it is one of the few portraits that Manet painted with a life-sized head. The subject of the portrait, George Moore, the famous Irish poet, novelist, and art critic, was so pleased with the portrait that he used it was the front cover for his book 'Modern Painting', which was published in 1893, ten years after Manet's death. When the piece was originally exhibited in 1880, however, it was not well received, with critics calling it "le noyé repêché", or "the drowned man fished out of the water".
Despite the fact that the painting appears to be very vibrant, Manet only really used colour in the face and hair of his subject. George Moore's Irish descent is betrayed by the marvelous red hair, the smoothness and shine of it appearing effortless, while his lips, still visible behind the rather unkempt facial hair, have a movement to them that makes the whole face feel as if the viewer is privy to a private conversation between Moore and Manet. The minimal use of highlights and shadow on the skin also give the impression of movement; that Moore will, at any moment, sip from a cup or stand up and walk away, while the eyes make him appear at ease. The nose is painted simply, with the least use of colour possible while managing to be extremely life-like.
Moore's clothing, like his nose, appears to be very realistic while being rendered with the minimum of effort. The edges of the shoulders, for example, go from being almost out of focus on the left to being very crisp and sharp on the right, giving the impression of depth, while the highlights on the right side are slightly curved, also helps to make the image feel three-dimensional. The cravat is as much an idea of silk as it is a rendering of it, with a multitude of wispy strokes giving the impression of the neckwear, rather than detail of it. Despite its initial reception in 1880, the portrait of George Moore is one of the best known portraits of Manet's male friends, and continues to be an iconic piece to this day.