Sunday 30 April 2017

'An Explosion of Freshness' in the Face of Death

This painting of lilacs and roses - 'an explosion of freshness, quivering in the crystal vase where the painter's imagination had placed them,' in the words of Edmond Bazire - was one of the two last completed works of Edouard Manet, painted just weeks before his death on this day in 1883.
  Manet died, like so many in his time, of complications of syphilis. He had a gangrenous leg amputated below the knee in the hope of a cure, but this only postponed the inevitable. However, he retained his good humour and ready wit to the end. One of his last visitors, Gaston Latouche, left an account of the dying Manet:
'Death came slowly, but it came. The last time I saw poor Manet, he had undergone the painful operation on his leg that we all remember. I can still see his fine head silhouetted against the white pillow that emphasised the ashen colour his face had assumed, already invaded by the shadows of death.
 I stayed with him only a few moments; he was supposed to avoid fatigue. We said little - I tried to keep a smile on my lips for his sake, and I felt the sobs tightening my throat. Yet Manet managed to laugh, and to make me laugh - I, who had promised to cheer up the dear companion, to whom I was so deeply devoted. I left without finding a word to say, pressing Madame Manet's hands and those of the good Leenhoff [Leon Leenhoff, Mme Manet's 'brother', in fact her son, either by Manet or possibly Manet's father].
 Two days later Manet died.'

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