Monday, 16 May 2016
Many have painted lilac blossom, in situ and as a cut flower, but surely no one has ever caught its beauty as perfectly as Manet. In his long last illness, Manet painted a brilliant series of flower paintings, taking as his subjects the posies brought to him by visiting friends. The best of these are surely his paintings of sprays of lilac in light-catching, light-concentrating crystal vases against an intensely dark background. It's hard not to read these as an assertion of beauty - fragile but for now supreme - in the face of imminent death. Manet's treatment of the white-green colour and lacy texture of the lilac is masterly, and his intense focus on the reflections and refractions of light in the water creates an entire visual world, at once a naturalistic account of what is there and something more, something beyond. This is flower painting in excelsis.