Wednesday 23 January 2013

Manet Happy Returns

It's Edouard Manet's birthday today (his 181st) and the Royal Academy's blockbuster exhibition of his portraits is imminent. Our old friend Will Gompertz was banalising away about the great pre/proto/quasi/non-Impressionist last night on the news, but even that was not enough to put me off what will surely be a must-see event.
But will I actually go to see it? Much though I love this endlessly fascinating artist, I'm not at all sure I will. Despite my height advantage, I find it hard to enjoy looking at paintings when I'm in the thick of a milling crowd. And despite my love of looking at paintings, I cannot do it for very long without a kind of aesthetic exhaustion setting in, so big blockbuster exhibitions - unless I know exactly what I'm looking for and what to skip - tend to defeat me. There are 'more than 50' works in the Manet exhibition (one of them, coming in from Brazil, is currently delayed at Heathrow) and that is surely far too many to take in in an hour or so. Even if you lingered for two hours (and I can never last much beyond an hour), you would have averaged barely two minutes with each painting. Is that enough? Have you really seen the exhibition or merely 'done' it? Ideally it ought to be possible to come and go as often as you like, concentrating on a few works each time - that is the beauty of permanent collections, and it's the downside of time-limited, crowd-pleasing exhibitions. Still, if you're prepared to pay a whacking £30, you can 'avoid the crowds' and see the Manets on Sunday evenings (with a 'drink' thrown in) -  if those special tickets haven't already sold out.
Incidentally, isn't it a little surprising that this show is proving quite as popular as it is? Manet is not an obvious crowd pleaser: his paintings aren't pretty, and are often strange and unsettling. Maybe it's that magic word 'Impressionist' (not that he was one), and perhaps the fact that he nearly shares his surname with that other chap...


  1. How are we to pronounce that man Gompertz's name? he reminds me of Max Wall, although Max never attempted the dumbing down style of presentation. As for art overkill, agree with you Nige, saw a Pissaro exhibition at the Musee d'Orsay, there were, or appeared to be, hundreds of them. Couldn't look another one in the brushstroke for years afterwards.
    As for Manet, a good number of people assume it's just misspelling.

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