parisian scenes

Photo by Carmela Gross


Conconsiderations on the pictorial innovations of Édouard Manet

preamble and scheme

The group scenes and portraits made by Édouard Manet (1832-1883), like his work in general, were subjected to formalist historiographical readings. These ascended and predominated from the period of bourgeois restoration, opened with the Paris Commune massacre (1871) that inaugurated the so-called belle epoque.

Let us bear in mind that, since then, apart from brief revolutionary episodes, crises and devastations (resulting from colonialism, the financial collapse of 1929 and the two intra-imperialist world wars), capitalist expansion has prevailed and, along with it, formalist readings in the field of criticism. and art historiography. Without going into the reasons and details of this interrelationship, which is not the place to analyze here, the hegemony of the formalist canon, for the arts, lasted for about a century, until the 1970s, when formalism gave way to the eclecticism of the called “postmodernism”, which is also not the place to discuss here.

In this case, it is important to note, in this scheme, that within the historical cycle that involved and shaped the interpretation of Édouard Manet's art, it developed, almost entirely, under the effects of economic expansion (during the II Empire [1852-70 ] and its resumption in the Third Republic, from 1870 onwards). Exceptional times in this sense were only those of the Franco-Prussian intra-imperialist war in 1870-1, with the siege of Paris, and those of the political uprising of the Commune, which lasted approximately two months.


Counter-readings on the counter-tide

For the Formalists, from Julius Meier-Graefe (1867-1935) onwards, passing through Clement Greenberg (1909-94), Manet's painting would be fundamentally athematic or proto-abstract, in terms of the basic conception of the doctrine of “pure visibility”. This was proposed (based on elements of neo-Kantianism) by the collector, trader and also a writer, who studied art criticism: Konrad Fiedler (1841-1895).[I] Following Fiedler, the issue of themes was understood by a number of historians and critics as irrelevant to Manet's art designs, which prioritized, according to them, the emancipation of painting over the narrative function.

In this sense, Manet was heralded and sold by such criticism as the pioneer of the destruction of “pictorial illusionism”, that is to say, as the one who rejected – in addition to the thematic centrality in the composition – the grammar of chiaroscuro and depth. Supposed to be a precursor of “planarity” and anti-narrative painting, Manet was understood in such a key as the “zero ground” of modern art – considered, in this sense, as abstract art and fundamentally self-referred. In this vein, it is clear that the question (specific only to the angle of realism) about the meaning of Édouard Manet's Parisian portraits and scenes does not arise.

Going against the grain of such an interpretation, the present investigation presupposes, from the outset, the critical and inventive action of the painter in the face of the pictorial language of the time, as well as the engaged and radically republican content of his work. Therefore, I will try to show that the language innovations introduced, as well as the themes chosen, were part of the unity of a reflection in which the innovative practice of painting was inseparable from a critical synthesis of the historical moment.

Édouard Manet's pictorial innovations – whether those highlighted (under a mistaken bias) by the Formalists, or others that the latter were not aware of – were just what the painter needed to discuss and reflect critically and pictorially on the rising tide of the new production system of goods. What were the tensions that surrounded the aesthetic work in that context and what was, inversely, the critical-pictorial structure that Manet conferred to such forces? What distinguishes, compared to the previous painting, such portraits and scenes of life in the metropolis, then under accelerated and planned transformation, as will be discussed later? Without facing such questions, there is no way to make sense of the pictorial innovations undertaken by Manet.


physiology of disenchantment

Manet was a scholar of the international tradition. He made trips to Italy, Spain and Holland to visit museums and get to know other matrices of European painting. His operations of displacement, inversion and rupture of pictorial codes were not casual, but had a critical and reflected content and were historically guided. Throughout his training, and even through the painter Thomas Couture (1815-1879), in whose studio he began, he maintained close contact with the historian Jules Michelet (1798-1874) portrayed by Couture (1843, Paris, Musée Carnavalet) and also close to the Manet family.[ii]

Let's start with the portraits made by Manet. These present a certain inexpressiveness and indetermination. The faces show uncertain intimate states, emptied physiognomies and behavioral signs of dissociation, visible even in the mismatch of looks. Dissociation, mismatches, inexpressiveness… What is this unusual mixture of negative qualities about? The question fits, even more so when one considers how costly and difficult it was – both in Antiquity and from the Gothic onwards in the late medieval period – to develop in painting the terms of dialogue, affective manifestation and the inner or subjective sphere.

The apparent indeterminacy of the vises that dominates Manet's group scenes is quite different from that full of promises (of seduction, melancholy and others), typical of gallant fêtes de Watteau (1684-1721). In Manet, the sense of action and communication in faces and bodies is annulled. The result is a painting of self-disenchantment or the emptying of the spontaneity of the self as the real origin of action.


negative painting

Undoubtedly, this directly contradicts the character of his pictorial annotation: that is, the brushstroke linked to sensation, as demanded by Baudelaire (1821-67)[iii] and which seems, at once, to be both vigorous and spontaneous. But such a contradiction is only apparent and can be explained on other grounds.

What is the meaning of inexpressiveness What does Manet attribute to his figures? A confrontation with the painting that showed the genesis of individualism and the visual structure of the classical subject is useful to elucidate this paradox. Manet's portraits have the ballast of Dutch painting. And they similarly include the instantaneity of the act, typical of Chardin (1699-1779), a follower of Dutch realism. But Manet dialectically overcomes and denies such sources. As?

The human types in Dutch paintings – whose actions and environments were opposed by precision and functionality to the unreal, imaginary or abusive content of conduct and situations in Baroque paintings, in vogue in the absolutist courts of the time – were distinguished by their interest and attention with who performed some task or handled something: pouring milk, reading a letter, playing an instrument, etc. – see Vermeer's canvases (1632-75). Similarly, the figures of Hals[iv] (1582/3-1666), even in scenes of dissipation and squandering, when they manifested jubilation, they also revealed strong internal cohesion and a sense of individual presence, typical of the historical moment. Such signs were consistent with the secularization, the simplification of means, the nascent but general conviction in the faculty of judging. Finally, the set echoed the confidence in the institute of economic freedom implanted in Holland and denoted the rationalism and the supposed universalism of bourgeois ethics that infused a new value to the strength of judgment and to individual life in the XNUMXth century.

On the contrary, atony resides at the heart of the subjectivities outlined in Manet's canvases. Disconnected from everything, absent from himself and his surroundings, the attitudes presented by the modern painter have nothing of the concentrated and powerful attention of Chardin's types or of the Dutch tradition.

Let us also consider that inexpressiveness, mismatch and dissociation – the negative qualities of Édouard Manet's characters – are distributed beyond one face or another. In fact, they achieve a general and objective value as a feature common to all portraits and scenes in Paris. If this is accurate, we are dealing with an “objective form”. This comprises a “practical-historical substance” – according to the meaning coined by Roberto Schwarz (b. 1938), deployed from the notion of materialist form constructed by Antonio Candido (1918-2017).

It is, in these terms, a form that implies – for its specifically aesthetic consolidation – the structural reduction of the “general rhythm of society”, says Candido. The process occurs in such a way that the social rhythm does not appear as an enveloping modality, but as an active internal element and in the form of its own and specific dynamism. The form in question, as an aesthetic condensation of social rhythms, thus manifests, according to Schwarz, the consistent result of a power within the novel.[v]

In such a perspective, the pictorial forms of inexpressiveness, mismatch and dissociation – as negative qualities of Édouard Manet's characters or deficiencies in his painting (according to the view of critics of the time) – would reveal what were specific modes of subjectivity and sociability, for Manet, currents in the Paris of the II Empire (1852-70). Again, what does this bring and imply?


"Modern life"

The critical-reflective work of Baudelaire (1821-1867) was decisive beyond the terms of art, that is, to establish, for Manet, the general meaning of modernity. The painter maintained an intense dialogue – which was neglected by the Formalists – with the critic and poet whose beginnings in art criticism preceded Manet's painting by about a decade and a half and, therefore, certainly contributed to the formation of the latter.

What is the root of the notion of modernity, in Baudelaire? In addition to Diderot's (1713-84) anti-classical motto, “it's not the last time ["you have to be of your time]"[vi] – which paves the way for Baudelaire – it is clear that his notion of modernity dates back much further to the Enlightenment. And that, moreover, in this sense – and due to the unprecedented and accelerated process of urbanization that is insistently highlighted by Baudelaire –, the parallel is imposed with at least three crucial points (according to France Vernier) of the theses of the Communist Manifesto (1848)[vii]

The first critical work written by Baudelaire was about the 1845 Salon. Baudelaire's historical-aesthetic reflection, born as a punctual appreciation of the paintings exhibited at the Salon – therefore, based on the discursive critical pattern established by Diderot –,[viii] will progressively detach itself from the punctual appreciation of the works and acquire a reflective and totalizing nature, in a series of works that culminate in the essay Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne [The Painter of Modern Life],[ix] published in three parts in Le Figaro (26, 29.11 and 3.12.1863), that is, precisely in the year in which Édouard Manet sent, to the Salon, the Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1863, oil on canvas, 208 x 264 cm, Paris, Musée d'Orsay). Mere coincidence?

Baudelaire, although he used the term “modern art” in his reflection from the beginning – possibly borrowed from Délacroix (1798-1863), who used it, but in a casual and imprecise way –, would evolve towards a certain understanding of modernity as actuality and structure unprecedented history. The critic will progressively trace the outline of a new art, which he will call “modern”, a transition from romanticism to an “epic” of the new times.

Three points are crucial and deserve attention: (1) “modern art” is linked to “modernity”, therefore, aesthetic reflection and historical reflection are, in this case, inseparable; (2) the concern with both will be permanent and their elaboration will give rise to a reflective progress throughout the critic's work; and (3) such reflection will always have a negative character – of which Satanism will be the emblem before the existing social and symbolic order –[X] see the bridges with the Manifest…Of 1848.


In line with the Manifesto

Thus, in the passage where the Manifest… underlines the inherently revolutionary and at the same time destructive character of the bourgeoisie – which, as we know, constantly revolutionizes the means, production relations and social ties, without leaving anything standing –, the proximity of the analyzes is remarkable.[xi] Three motifs of Baudelaire's aesthetics, in the twenty-something years of his activity until his death in 1867, denote harmony – perhaps by default, but objectively – with such passage: the ephemeral, passenger or transient as a modern trait; general circulation, incessant movement as a typification of modernity; and, finally, the destruction that accompanies modernization according to the logic of capitalist development and that drives Baudelaire's appeal to the tragic sense as the nexus of modern art.

In this sense, Baudelaire's sense of the ephemeral is inseparable from that of the tragic, and it is from such a synthesis that the epic that he calls modern is distilled, that is, the combination – outlined even before the genocide of 1848, in “Do heroísmo da vida moderne ” –[xii] between the “transient”, in plain sight, and the “eternal” – the latter perceived in a satanic-materialist perspective as an objectified absolute; that is, placed as the history or tragic memory of destruction – the quintessence of modernization – as analogously they would point out: Marx, two years later, in the The Manifest, and Benjamin, ninety years later, in his theses on the concept of history.[xiii]

Tragic negativity as the nexus of modern art is opposed to the positivity and banality of everyday bourgeois life that Baudelaire endlessly vilifies. In this sense, what could be found in those circumstances as the most antithetical to Baudelaire's conception of modern art (founded on the revolutionary and republican austerity of David's painting, from Year II, and even more linked to the memory of the massacre of the 1848 revolution) ) – [xiv] than the bucolic-pastoral motifs, of urban hedonism, of immediacy and frivolity, which, in leisure scenes in the suburbs or in the city, belong to the heart of impressionist painting? Therefore, contrary to what is taken for granted when it is often stated that Manet was the first of the impressionists, Baudelaire carried out the denial before la lettre, so to speak, of impressionist art; finally, he prepared his antithesis in advance.

In summary, the celebrated sensations of the freshness of “joy of living” or from the impressionist fruition resounds the reveille call of the said “belle époque”. On the contrary, the first express manifestation of modern art – and, as such, of the tragic and the epic as conjugated modern traits, according to Baudelaire – consists concretely in the Murdered Marat (Marat Assassine [Marat to son dernier soupir], 1793, oil on canvas, 165 x 128 cm, Brussels, Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique), by J.-L. David (1748-1825), the emblematic artist of the Republican Revolution.[xv]


pipeline city

The destructive metabolism of the new social order was obvious to everyone: the Paris reforms under Napoleon III devastated the capital's urban center and displaced three hundred and fifty thousand residents (in official figures) for the installation of a network of avenues, sidewalks and showcases in which goods and military troops would circulate freely. It was a mega-operation to recolonize the urban territory, as the statement by Baron Haussmann (1809-1891), leader of the reform, involuntarily admitted, that the city would no longer have inhabitants, but only “nomads”. In the city converted into a system of ducts and windows – and urbanistically “armored” against barricades –,[xvi] the empire of circulation came into force.

If Manet's idea of ​​modernity implied such a complex of meanings, what can be inferred from the pictorially synthesized signs of inexpressiveness, mismatch and dissociation – according to the hypothesis put forward, “objective forms” pertaining to modern subjectivity and sociability?


circulating beings

Was it through such negative qualities that painting mapped the new position of the self, that is to say, the restructuring of the subject according to the rhythm of changes in Paris during the II Empire, considering the terms in which the painter traced the traces of the general rhythm in the subjectivities presented pictorially. The disagreement between individuals and the dissociation of the group echoed the inexpressiveness, the subjective emptying.

In the group scenes in situations of consumption or leisure, among the detached faces, some stare at the painter and then at the viewer, as if asking something. Helplessness, laxity and perplexity, by becoming a structural function, will have fed a new principle of subjectivity – here is the hypothesis in question –, more than a subjective feeling or accident. In this sense, the empty faces in Manet's canvases illustrate the end of authentic psychic motives and group relations, in short, the dismantling of each person's decision-making capacity as well as of all social cohesion.

Would they constitute, in these terms, an outline of a visual representation of the estrangement from oneself or the so-called state of “alienation”? Let's examine the question. In letters, the phenomenon had already been detected about a century before, considering the description that Rousseau, in his third letter to Malesherbes (26.01.1762), presented of the acute and unspeakable feeling of self-emptying, even in the midst of joy of being alone in nature.[xvii]

Let us look for a hypothetical reason for the estrangement from oneself or for the state of alienation, among the effects of modernity, distinguished by Baudelaire. Let us remember that this was a priority and decisive interlocutor for the painter. According to this prism, we will intuit, in the background of the atony of each figure of Manet, the trace of impotence, the feeling of being dragged before an immeasurable phenomenon, which irremediably destroys everything. To what to attribute such impotence? How to specify such a factor, apparently universal in scope?

An imperative automatism that encompasses everything, the experience of circulation emerges by hypothesis, for Baudelaire, as a universal and general condition. Now, it is known that unforeseen contiguities, accidental and informal companionships appeared as inherent to the new routine of Parisian situations, according to reports from the time about the movement of passers-by, the affluence to large stores and mass entertainment, etc. Manet's action would have consisted of detecting the visual signs of new forms of contiguity, in spite of status codes – factors that were once part of a rigid spatial order that mirrored social segmentation.

In effect, the palace, the village, the village and its residents, in everything they put themselves as strangers and apart; they intercommunicated only by exception and through rituals. On the other hand, in the Paris of the Second Empire, from the great avenues and parks, from the crowds and from the shop windows, from international fairs and café-concerts, everyone comes and goes or gathers around the goods that rotate incessantly. You don't work where you live. In fact, urban reform came to liquidate artisan streets and popular neighborhoods.


From tragedy to farce

Thus, in the Paris where Manet works, the prototype capital of today's city-malls, nothing has roots, everything circulates and exchanges. Situations and relationships arise speculatively as contacts between discontinuities, which allows the artist to analogously conceive any montage. Freedom of this nature is practiced in dioramas and photographic studios, where it is possible to pose in front of exotic scenarios and stage all sorts of “phantasmagorias”.[xviii]

Thus, at the same time that Manet's portraits and scenes in Paris express the intense circulation that made caste barriers flexible, picturesque scenes are also derived from this (Manet's so-called studio painting), based on typical scenes. mounted, also called “Spanishisms” (situations with Hispanic motifs, fashionable due to the empress's Iberian origin).

Faced with manifest inconsistencies, the formalists opted to state that Édouard Manet's scenes did not intend to narrate (sic). That would explain a fake bullfighter, a pseudo-guitarist, a dead Christ looking astonished, disinterested or alien angels – in short, the endless list of unconvincing figures. The display unit appears to crack. The Spanish motifs, which in the first Goya still typified, already in Manet cease to be authentic.

However, it is worth asking the question again: what is the reason for the inconsistencies? Cynicism, as some contemporaries pointed out? Resignation of painting to discuss the world, as the formalists wanted, or, finally, Manet's critical judgment about a historical process – the end of the authenticity of national traits – and of a certain art, which had, both, nation and art, lost historical substratum?

Why not assume, then, that the effect of inauthenticity, analogous to that of inexpressiveness, came to signal a new historical cycle? Which? If we grant him critical insight and reflection, Manet will aim, in these terms, at a typology of decidedly ill-adjusted relationships. His negative scenes – only ironically “Spanish” – will be authentically Parisian in their desire to look like others, true in their lack and falsity or in their content of “phantasmagorias”, in Benjamin's sense. With a touch of chanchada, these paintings combine the parody of masters, such as Velázquez (1599-1660), and the portrait of a Parisian idler. A model represents different picturesque scenes. “Men's magazines” still do this today. The kinship of these canvases with the phantasmagoria of photographic studios will not be casual, but strategic.

To what end? By exposing a gap between the semblance and the role, Manet underlines, in the falsification of the typical, the complicity that will soon appear as an integrated habit, a link in the logic of dioramas and other entertainments of the time – taken advantage of by Hollywood, which made the use of actors routine. with nothing to do with the types they represent.


snake eggs

Far beyond the order of the spectacle, such a process presupposes the broad social reorganization of work, underway in England since much earlier, but which only began to take root in France with the political rise of the property-owning bourgeoisie in 1791 (which dissolved the corporations of workers).[xx]

The reorganization of work was consolidated with the Paris reforms, in the II Empire, to then be completed with the massacre of the Commune, when between thirty and forty thousand people were slaughtered in the so-called “Bloody Week” (21 – 28.05.1871), at the behest of the Republic of Proprietors installed in Versailles, with the support of the invading Prussian troops. Legions of skilled workers, master craftsmen and their work teams were exterminated with bayonet blows and mass shootings.[xx] It was the beginning ofbelle époque".

Paris then entered the pace of industrialization and the restructuring of production, which – given the reduction of the working class in the city – required immigrant labor. Manet, witness to Haussmann's reforms and the above process – which completely changed the characteristics of the Parisian working class – was able to observe well, I think, the continuity of the cycles of liquidation of the qualified work mode. For this reason, he would have managed – with the magnifying glass of his painting – to collect and closely examine the serpent's egg.

How did you register it? In the mismatches between subjectivity and its function, built in the studio, a generalized state of vacancy of social roles, mobility and availability of figures emerges. All are for whatever comes and comes. Hence the lack of definition and uncertainty in the view, worked by painting that avoids establishing the outline and details: the art critic is ready to become an investor; the scientist into a collector; the journalist, in parliamentarian; this, in writer and vice versa; the actress or dancer, to perform other jobs and roles, etc.

The intrinsic dissociation between subject and function is inherent to the social division of labor and market practices. Manet distinguished such signs as manifestations of the laws of a general process because the Paris reforms manufactured mobile labor without its own tools, that is, abstract labor power.

In fact, by withdrawing workers from the center to convert the old neighborhoods into circulation pipelines, the reforms pulverized the secular unity between home and workshop, the organic link between housing and the workplace. They worked similarly to the enclosures, the enclosure of communal lands in England, consolidated there already in the XNUMXth century.[xxx]

Thus, in France, the belated conversion of the craftsman and the apprentice into unskilled laborers or abstract work modules was prepared by planned urbanization, which massively expropriated workshops and workers' dwellings. Like the floor and subsoil of Paris eviscerated by the demolitions, the logic of the process would have jumped out at the painter who wrote it down.

Urban reform catalyzed the laws of the ongoing process. It stripped its structural face. With the broad reorganization of production based on the abstract and salaried workforce, trades are no longer permeated by family, historical or geographic origin. They ceased to be transmitted from generation to generation. Migration from the home region to obtain employment became current and a constitutive factor in the metropolis as an agglomeration of anonymous crowds with no origin. The historical emergence of the form of “free labor”, or of the worker without the means to produce and redefined as abstract labor taken to the market, is therefore also that of its structural circulation abstractly posited, in the absence of any concrete determination.

Thus, the organic link between subjectivity and social role was dissolved extensively and radically, a link that – since the emergence of humanity until the end of trade guilds – had been determinant of the structures of gregariousness, sociability and subjectivation. And there was a structural gap between the subject and the function.


beings for traffic

In this way, it becomes clear why the portraits made by Édouard Manet come without psychology. And because, unlike those of Daumier (1808-1879) and Courbet (1819-1877), those of Manet do not bring behavioral, psychological or similar traits. His painting registers the nascent massification as an abstraction of subjective histories and concrete personality traits.

In this light, the inexpressiveness of the figures highlighted by the paintings is equivalent to their interchangeability or their aptitude for circulation, that is, their configuration as an abstract work force. In Parisian portraits and scenes, Manet exposes the law of the market: everything is a circulating and potentially convertible medium and comes to the same thing, that is, to the so-called general equivalent, the money-form. In this, the transient and the contingent, as sets of experiences and social relations crystallize, despite their living and metabolic roots, in the objectified abstract form of (exchange) value or in currency units, transformed into a general standard.

Therefore, the historical truth embodied in the general rhythm of social life is not, therefore, sedimented in individualities, but consists of the broad restructuring of subjectivities, according to a large-scale process. The schematic and summary modeling – through a few quick strokes of the brush applied by Manet – describes such a turning or conversion of metabolic factors into abstract forms, reducible to a module or unit of value that works as an equivalent basis for all forms, whose variations ( value varieties) are distinguished only as price differences.

In other words, something the Formalists intuited vaguely and confusedly when they pretended that Manet's painting was heading towards abstraction. But they were completely wrong (due to the very nature of the fetishistic way in which they saw the social process), when they supposed that it was painting, by itself, autonomously and independently, that headed towards abstraction – and not the social process –, which Manet's realist painting effectively sought to map, by forging new narrative or pictorial-discursive modes.

Scene by scene, portrait by portrait, a procession of bottomless subjectivities, as mediated by abstraction, effectively parades through Manet's canvases. Prostheses of transitory identities because they are incessantly redone, subjectivities – without determining milestones –, in the painter's view, function as modules. The waitresses who serve, the gentlemen who drink, the couple who stroll, the lady who skates, the lady who reads… Where do they come from? Where are you going? Who are?

If the determinations of origin do not count and are not noticed except as falsehoods – on the other hand, the destination of all is stamped on the faces and indeterminate postures as well as in the programmatic improvisation, one might say, of the pictorial fabric: they are beings for the transit, are intended for circulation. They are the passers-by or nomads, apud Haussmann.

It is renewed as an issue, therefore, in the view shared with Baudelaire, the analysis of the public sphere, converted from an idealized formation in the Enlightenment into a device in mutation, subjected to the incessant vortex of circulation – its new matrix structure in which eternal and transitory are modes of same.



Therefore, Manet's materialist vision and fabrication do more than escape the academic norm or find – through improvisation – the form of the ephemeral and the passing sensation. They do, however, put in a materialist key, the radical turn of the human converted to the value-form.

A series of individual portraits focus on the pause: workers or immobile consumers. Delivered to what? A visible sign of the primacy of automatisms, the apathetic state at rest and during the lapse shows the subjective emptiness as habitat of market metabolism: it exposes the abstract force and without the means of production, dispossessed and under the fury of “free competition”.

Thus, the order that shapes being for-to-circulation also shapes non-being, or going into apparent suspension (the fact of remaining alone and motionless in non-circulation) as impotence and absence of self. In the astonished and apathetic face, once the only remaining identity form is suspended – that of being-for-the-market, mobile for production –, it is proven that the visual redefinition of the individual by Manet seeks to present the form of mere abstract force work, no more. The drunk, the beggar, the singer, the waitress, the art critic, the politician, the notable, the poet, the writer, the painter, etc. – in the pause of their actions – resemble each other. Thus, politicians and statesmen such as Gambetta (1838-82), Rochefort (1831-1913), Clemenceau (1841-1929), portrayed through Manet's synthesis, refused his paintings.

Indeed, in addition to individual portraits, fragments of a new social web are thus placed, a sign of another productive order, noted in an unprecedented way in painting as an “objective form” of subjectivity. Dissociated and inexpressive subjectivities, neutral and flexible according to Édouard Manet, offer a panoramic view of the abstract paths of the market, potentiated in the voids and in the convertibility of each one in being-for-exchange.

In these terms, the individuality that had made the rich diversification of the Human Comedy by Balzac (1799-1850) in the first half of the century, or the caricatures of Daumier (1808-1879) in the previous regime (1830-48), by Luís-Felipe (1773-1850). Even when the portrayed figures would give rise to a special definition – in 1866, the critic Zacharie Astruc (1835-1907); in 1868, the critic Théodore Duret (1838-1927); in 1866, 1867-8, Suzanne Leenhoff, his wife, and, in 1868, Léon Leenhoff, his son; in 1876, Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898); in 1879, Manet himself; in 1880, Émile Zola (1840-1902); in 1880, the critic Antonin Proust (1832-1905)… –, nothing distinguishes them in the physiognomy or the look. It particularizes them, sometimes and in residue, just a hint of vigor or contained despair, with which they bring the book, the brush, the work material or for another purpose, thus left as they are in vain or also emptied.

In summary, the structural mutation of the human condition and the general transformation of the meaning of actions are synthesized as a disposition and general requalification for circulation and convertibility. Manet's key form – and this determination would be his leap from the cat, the step beyond, perhaps, Baudelaire – is, therefore, the commodity, the “elementary form” of the new society, as stated in the famous phrase in the first paragraph of The capital.[xxiii]


social meat

In conclusion, in the market city, where everything circulates and situations and social relations arise speculatively as random contacts between discontinuous terms, everything or almost everything is possible, since everything tends to be transmuted into an equivalent and so on. However, nothing ceases to be mediated or become a commodity, no matter the time and form of mutation or becoming. The dual nature of living beings, things and their relationships, on the one hand concrete and on the other hand priced, abstractions destined for the market, constitutes the governing structure of the new historical order, which was supposed to be natural or forever – but whose denial Manet could glimpse in the tragic brevity of the Commune (in which he participated).

In this process of surveying and visually determining the structure of the goods, the Olympia (1863, oil on canvas, 130,5 x 190 cm, Paris, Musée d'Orsay), by Manet, took on the character of a manifesto. It corresponded to a synthesis or corollary of the various portraits of working women made by Manet from 1862 onwards (the year of a large international fair).

Olympia made explicit the visual structure of the work-for-sale, therefore, of the merchandise. But I stop here, with such a proposition or suggestion for discussion.[xxiii]

* Luiz Renato Martins he is professor-advisor of PPG in Economic History (FFLCH-USP) and Visual Arts (ECA-USP). Author, among other books, of The Conspiracy of Modern Art (Haymarket/ HMBS).

Original version (in Portuguese) of chap. 7, “Parisian scenes”, from the book La Conspiration de l'Art Moderne et Other Essais, edition and introduction by François Albera, translation by Baptiste Grasset, Lausanne, Infolio (2022/ scheduled for the second half of the year).


[I] On the formalist view of Manet's painting, see LR MARTINS, Manet: A Businesswoman, Lunch in the Park, and a Bar, Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 2007, pp. 11-22.

[ii] For details, see Michael FRIED, Manet's Modernism or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1996, pp. 118-23, 128-131, 142.

[iii] See LR MARTINS, “The conspiracy of modern art”, in idem, Revolutions: Poetry of the Unfinished, 1789 – 1848, Vol. 1, preface François Albera, São Paulo, Ideias Baratas/ Sundermann, 2014, pp. 27-8.

[iv] See, for example, Frans Hals: Young Man and Woman in an Inn/ Yonker Ramp and his Sweetheart ([Young Man and Woman at an Inn], ca. 1623, oil on canvas, , 105,4 x 79,4 cm, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art ) and The Bohemian ([Bohemia], ca. 1626, oil on canvas, 58 x 83 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre).

[v] See Antonio CANDIDO, The Discourse and the City, Rio de Janeiro, Ouro sobre Azul, 2004, pp. 28, 38; for Schwarz's comments on the subject, see Roberto Schwarz, “Assumptions, if I'm not mistaken, of the Dialectic of Malandragem”, in What time is it?, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1989, pp. 129-55, especially, p. 142; see also, idem, “National adequacy and critical originality”, in idem, Brazilian Sequences: Essays, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1999, pp. 24-45, especially, pp. 28, 35-6, 41. It is worth noting, given the contiguity with the other elements involved in the relationship between Manet and Baudelaire, that Schwarz in his comments observes an analogy between Candido's concern to establish a “practical-historical substance” of the aesthetic form and the investigation in “line stereoscopic by Walter Benjamin, with his acuity, for example, for the importance of the market mechanism for the configuration of Baudelaire's poetry” (Schwarz emphasis), cf. ditto, “Suitability…”, pp. 30-1 (for the notion of substance) and 28 (for Benjamin's stereoscopic perspective).

[vi] apud Giulio Carlo ARGAN, “Manet e la pittura Italiana”, in idem, From Hogarth to Picasso/ L'Arte Moderna in Europa, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1983, p. 346.

[vii] See France joxe [Vernier], “Ville et modernité dans les fleurs de mal", In Europe, XLV, no. 456-457, Paris, ed. Europe, April-May 1967, pp. 139-162. France VERNIER, “City and Modernity in the Flowers of Evil of Baudelaire”, trans. Maria Hirzman, Rev. technician LR Martins, in magazine Ars/ Magazine of the Graduate Program in Visual Arts, nº 10, São Paulo, Graduate Program in Visual Arts/ Department of Plastic Arts, School of Communications and Arts, University of São Paulo, 2007, p. 63. See also see LR MARTINS, on. cit., pp. 23-7.

[viii] See Denis Diderot, Salons (1759-1781), intro. Laurent Versini, in D. DIDEROT, Works, take IV/ Esthetique – Theater, ed. établie par L. Versini, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1996, pp. 169-1011.

[ix]  See Charles Baudelaire, « Le peintre de la vie moderne »., in idem, Complete Oeuvres, texte établi, présente et annoté par C. Pichois, vol. II, Paris, Gallimard/ Pléiade, 2002, pp. 683-724.

[X] On Baudelaire's Satanism, see LR MARTINS, “The conspiracy…”, op. cit., pp. 35-40.

[xi] “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production and, in this way, the relations of production and, with them, all the relations of society. The preservation of the old modes of production in an unaltered form was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all the old industrial classes. The constant revolution of production, the uninterrupted disturbances of all social conditions, the permanent uncertainties and agitations distinguished the bourgeois epoch from all previous ones. All firm, solid relationships, with their series of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, were swept away, all new ones became antiquated before they could ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is sacred is profaned, and men are at last compelled to face sensibly their real conditions of life and their relations with their fellow men.” See Karl MARX and Friedrich ENGELS, The Communist Manifesto, trans. Maria Lucia Como, Rio de Janeiro, Paz e Terra, 1998, pp. 13-4; Karl Marx and Frederick ENGELS, The Communist Manifesto, edited by Phil Gasper, Chicago, Haymarket, p. 44.

[xii] "Toutes les beautés contiennent, como tous les phénomènes possibles, quelque chose d'éternel et quelque chose de transitoire, - d'absolu et de particulier [All beauties contain, like all possible phenomena, something eternal and something transitory – absolute and particular]”. Cf. C. BAUDELAIRE, “XVIII. De l'héroïsme de la vie moderne”, in idem, Salon of 1846, in Same, Complete Oeuvres, text, text and annotation by C. Pichois, Paris, Pléiade/Gallimard, 2002, vol. II, p. 493.

[xiii] See especially thesis IX, on the “angel of history”, in Walter Benjamin, About the concept of history, in Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”, trans. from theses JM Gagnebin, M. L Müller, in Michael Löwy, Walter Benjamin: Fire Warning, trans. WNC Brandt, São Paulo, Boitempo, 2005, p. 87.

[xiv] See LR MARTINS, “The conspiracy…”, op. quote…

[xv] Cf. C. BAUDELAIRE,, “Le Musée classique du Bazar Bonne-Nouvelle”, in idem, Complete Oeuvres, vol. II, C. Pichois (introductions and notes), Paris, Gallimard, 2004, p. 409-10. See also LR MARTINS, “Marat, by David: photojournalism”, in idem, Revolutions…, op. cit., pp. 65-82.

[xvi] See W. Benjamin, “Paris, capitale du XIX siècle/ Exposé (1939)”, in idem, Écrits Français, introduction et notices by Jean-Maurice Monnoyer, Paris, Gallimard/ Folio Essais, 2003, pp. 373-400; see also Michael Löwy, « La ville, lieu stratégique de l'affrontement des classes. Insurrections, barricades et haussmannisation de Paris dans le Passage work by Walter Benjamin », in Philippe Simay (ed.), Capitals of Modernity. Walter Benjamin et la Ville. Paris, Éclat, « Philosophie imaginaire », 2005, p. 19-36. DOI: 10.3917/ecla.simay.2005.01.0019. url:–9782841621088-page-19.htm, “The city, a strategic place for class confrontation: insurrections, barricades and the Haussmannization of Paris in the Flights by Walter Benjamin”, in magazine Left Bank / Marxist Essays, Sao Paulo, n.o 8, p.59-75, Nov. 2006; see also TJ CLARK, “The view from Notre Dame”, in idem, The Painting of Modern Life/ Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers (1984), New Jersey, Princeton, University Press, 1989, pp. 23-78; ed. br. : “The view from Notre Dame” in idem, Modern Life Painting/Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (1984), trans. José Geraldo Couto, São Paulo, Editora Schwarcz, Companhia das Letras, 2004, pp. 59-127.

[xvii] « Je m'en formalis une société charmante dont je ne me sit pas indigne, je me faisais un siècle d'or à ma fantaisie, et remplissant ces beaux jours de toutes les scènes de ma vie, qui m'avaient laissé de doux souvenirs , et de toutes celles que mon cœur pouvait désirer encore, je m'attendrissais jusqu'aux larmes sur les vrais plaisirs de l'humanité, plaisirs si délicieux, si purs, et qui sont désormais si loin des hommes. Ô si dans ces moments quelque idée de Paris, de mon siècle, et de ma petite gloriole d'Auteur, venait troubler mes rêveries, avec quel dédain je la chassais à l'instant pour me livrer sans distraction, aux sentiments exquis dont mon âme était pleine ! Cependant au milieu de tout cela, je l'avoue, le néant de mes chimères venait quelquefois la contrister tout-à-coup. Quand tous mes rêves se seraient tournés en réalités, ils ne m'auraient pas suffi ; j'aurais imaginé, rêvé, désiré encore. Je trouvais en moi un vide inexplicable que rien n'aurait pu remplir; un certain élancement de cœur vers une autre sorte de jouissance dont je n'avais pas d'idée, et dont pourtant je sentais le besoin [It created in my fantasy a golden age and moved me to tears when I thought of the true joys of humanity, those joys so delicious and pure that are now so far away and removed from men. However, in the midst of all this, I confess that I felt at times a sudden affliction. Even if all my dreams had come true, it wouldn't have been enough for me; I would have continued to give myself over to my imagination, my dreams and desires. found in me an inexplicable void that nothing would be able to fill; an impulse of the heart for another kind of happiness which he could not conceive of and for which he nevertheless longed]” (emphasis mine). Cf. Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU, “Quatre lettres à M. le président de Malesherbes: Contenant le vrai tableau de mon caractère, et les vrais motifs de toute ma conduite”, 1762, in Ouvres Complètes by J.-J. Rousseau, Tome V, Ière Partie, Paris, Chez A. Belin, 1817, p. 321; trans. br. : “Third letter to Malesherbes, January 26, 1762″ [Hachette, X, p. 304-6] apoud E. Cassirer, The Jean-Jacques Rousseau Question, trans. EJ Paschoal, J. Gutierre, review Isabel Loureiro, São Paulo, UNESP, 1999, p. 85. See note 62, on p. 85, by Cassirer, noting in one of the quoted sentences a modification introduced by the German author, to shorten it. However, this is not a change of meaning as to what matters here.

[xviii] On the notion of “phantasmagoria” as an analogue of the commodity and its decisive role in the urban experience of Paris in the XNUMXth century, see W. Benjamin, “Paris, capitale…”, op.cit.. See also Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing/ Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, Cambridge (MA), The MIT Press, 1991, (ch. 5) pp. 110-58; Dialectics of the Gaze / Walter Benjamin and the Project of Passages, trans. Ana Luiza Andrade, rev. technician David Lopes da Silva, Belo Horizonte/ Chapecó (SC), Ed. UFMG/ Ed. Universitária Argos, 2002. See also J. Crary, Techniques of the Observer/ On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge (MA), October Book/ MIT Press, 1998.

[xx] A series of measures, implemented in 1791, put an end to the corporatist regime. Thus, the Allarde law (02.03.1791) suppressed privileged corporations and manufactures, in accordance with the principle of free enterprise and free access to employers: “A compter du 1er Avril prochain, il sera libre à tout citoyen d'exercer telle profession , art or métier qu'il trouvera bon après s´être pourvu d'une patent [As of the 1st of April next, every citizen will be allowed to practice such a profession, art or craft that he deems good, after having provided himself with a patent]". Weeks later, a second measure (23.04.1791), also attributed to the legislator Baron de Allarde (1749-1809), abolished the positions of juror and master of guilds. The Chapelier law, voted on 14.06.1791, completed the work that established a new employers' regime, interdicting all coalitions, mutual societies and workers' associations, as well as strikes. See the entries “Allarde Pierre”, by J.-R. Suratteau, and “Corporations”, by R. Monnier, in Albert SOBOUL, Dictionnaire Historique de la Révolution Française, Paris, Quadrige/PUF, 2005, pp. 15, 294-5.

[xx] To the dead, were added the deportees, the disappeared and the escaped, in such a way that the report “L'Enquête des conseillers municipaux de Paris sur l'état de main d'oeuvre de la capitale”, of October 1871, estimated in more than one hundred thousand the number of workers who “tués, prisonniers ou en fuite, manquent aujourd´hui à Paris [dead, prisoners or on the run, are missing in Paris today]”. Figure that, it was added, “ne comprend pas les femmes [does not understand women]”, apoud Georges SORIA, Great Histoire de la Commune, take 5/ “Les Lendemains”, pp. 43-50. The passage also includes the report by General Félix Appert who, over the next four years, kept an account of the arrests and convictions carried out by the military justice system, broken down according to trades and professions. The survey also serves the observer of another era, as a record of countless crafts and craft practices that would disappear due to the reordering of the production process in industrial molds.

[xxx] See K. MARX, “The Expropriation of the agricultural population from the land/chapter 27” and “Bloody legislation against the expropriated since the end of the Fifteenth century. The forcing down of wages by act of Parliament/chapter 28”, in idem, Capital, volume 1, translation Ben Fowkes, introduction Ernest Mandel, London, Penguin Classics, 1990, pp. 877-904. For concrete records of class clashes that involved enclosures in XNUMXth-century England, see Christopher HILL, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution, Penguin Books, London, 1991, pp. 19-56; trans. en.: The World Upside Down / Radical Ideas During the English Revolution of 1640, translation and presentation by Renato Janine Ribeiro, São Paulo, Cia. das Letras, 2001, pp. 36-71; see also ditto, God's Englishman Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution, Weidenfeld & Nicholas, London, 1972; ; trans. en.: God's Elect / Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution, translation and presentation by CE Marcordes de Moura, São Paulo, Cia das Letras, 2001.

[xxiii] “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production predominates appears as a 'monstrous collection of commodities'; and the singular commodity, as its elementary form”. Cf. K. MARX, the merchandise, trans., apres. and comments Jorge Grespan, S. Paulo, Ática/ Ensaios Commentados, 2006, p. 13; K. MARX, Capital, vol. 1, op. cit., Penguin, p. 125.

[xxiii] About Olympia, the outlet for a visual cartography of women's work and the starting point of Manet's visual reflection on the commodity form, as well as on Un Bar aux Folies-Bergères (1881-2, oil on canvas, 96 x 130 cm, London, Courtauld Institute Galleries) – a body-scale panel that possibly brings the first critical-reflective judgment in painting about forms in general in the age of the market –, last canvas of Manet's historical genre, completed shortly before his death (which, by the way, occurred in the same year as Marx's), see LR MARTINS “Two scenes about merchandise”, in magazine Marxist Criticism, no. 54, Campinas, Cemarx/IFCH-UNICAMP, 2022 (in press).

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