Regicide Returns

Photo by Carmela Gross


Cconsiderations on a series of works by Édouard Manet entitled “The execution of Maximilian”

 Édouard Manet, The Execution of Maximilian, 1868-9, final canvas, Mannheim, oil on canvas, 252 x 302 cm, Städtstiche Kunsthalle.

critical archeology

To the observer of the work of Édouard Manet (1832-1883) and of the history of modern art, the theme of the execution of Maximilian of Habsburg, treated by the painter in several versions, appears as a labyrinth that many avoid facing. Often, it is argued that it would have occurred as a mere circumstantial exercise, not representative of the work. However, the insistence of the painter, who returned to the theme at least five times between July 1867 and 1869, demonstrates the opposite.[I]

Indeed, series of nonsense accumulated over the generations around such canvases, practically burying them for the unsuspecting eye. To see them, therefore, it is necessary to first remove such obstacles – veritable extracts of ideological platitudes and historiographical clichés – distributed in layers, which constitute different historical-geological condensations. Let us begin this critical archeology operation by examining some of the misconceptions that marked the era.

First, contrary to the currently accepted assumption that the subject was accidental, no other subject has received such careful and insistent attention from Manet. For about two years, the painter dwelt on the question. The different and successive versions do not characterize a set of supposedly equivalent canvases, such as the serial views of Rouen cathedral (1894) by Monet (1840-1926), but a work in progress. In short, the final canvas, now in Mannheim, is the result or corollary of a progression. Manet never exhibited the preceding canvases.

I do not intend with this to diminish the interest of the preliminary works, but to emphasize the systematic commitment with which the process of pictorial construction was conducted until its conclusion. The painter attributed to this painting an emblematic value within his work.[ii] The canvas was therefore constituted as a poetic sum, from which it is necessary to extract the premises and the aesthetic development.

Contrary to the widespread idea that Manet's painting was indifferent to the subject and therefore apolitical, this painting was subject to prior censorship and, judging by the dates, probably even before its last version was completed. In January 1869, the painter was notified by the authorities that he could not exhibit the canvas or related lithographs. Émile Zola (1840-1902) denounced the fact in an article (La Tribune .[iii]

To contemporaries, the opposition of the work to the II Empire was evident. Why, then, would such a sense, inherent to the theme, become something inadmissible or uncomfortable for the majority of those who studied Manet's painting after his death? The fact is that the political matter of the motive was not recognized, as if it were accidental and not the fulcrum of a systematic development.

The difficulty of the interpreters – mostly formalist and historicist historians – is understandable… Pudera! What could such historians do in the face of a series of paintings with a high political content, after having supported and disseminated the idea that Manet's work, according to the formalist perspective, would be non-narrative, indifferent to the themes, in short, protoabstract?

Incidentally, the same difficulty involves another set of works by Manet, also with high political voltage: the lithographs of 1871, which deal with Paris besieged by the Prussians, its barricades and the subsequent massacre of the Commune. This time, the censorship fell not to the Second Empire regime, swallowed up by the Prussians in the Battle of Sedan (1870), but to its oligarchic republican substitute.

There is, therefore, a persistent blind spot for most historians of modern art. In short, there is, on the one hand, a set of paintings with historical themes – works elaborated by Manet with evident and systematic commitment and, even, in a situation of risk during the Bloody Week, the one of the extermination of the Commune, in the case of the “lithos ” from 1871.[iv] And there is, on the other hand, the blind refusal of specialists to accept its importance for the painter.[v]

The paradox persists despite the growing attention that such works by Manet have gained since the complete exhibition of the series, alongside other works by him with political materials, in the National Gallery, London (July-September, 1992).[vi] The phenomenon persists because there is another extract of resistance or way of denying these works, which it is also necessary to analyze.


new repulsions

Therefore, the framework's regime of negations is the third point that requires examination. Thus, we can distinguish two regimes of refusals, historically subsequent to the aforementioned cases of political censorship. The first form of denial appears posthumously, linked to the prestige, at the time, of opticalism or “school of yeux [school of the eyes]”, as it was said then. According to this perspective, Manet's work was linked to impressionism, a paradigm of the “school of the eyes”. In this way, the notion spread that the themes of Manet's painting were anodyne or light, in line with impressionist themes, which would make the painter's attention to historical scenes an exception or accident in relation to the whole of his work.

Such denial is the work of the ideological apparatus constituted by the history of official art (formalist and historicist), by the correlated critics and by the similar directors of the museums. Its obscurantist influence has been, as regards the constitution of the critical fortune, more effective, persuasive and lasting than the acts of French governmental censorship. If the latter had a national reach – and thus the painter, in 1879, sent the canvas in question, still unpublished (ten years later!), to the United States, to be exhibited in New York and Boston –, on the other hand, the domain of the formalist denial of The Execution of Maximilian it has, it is worth noting, conquered international reach and resistance to all tests.[vii]


The dogma of athematic art

The predominance of the opticalist-formalist doctrine in the interpretation of the painter's work and of all modern art led Manet's work to be converted, according to this key, into the zero point of athematic and anti-narrative art. In this way, the complex of realist meanings in Manet's work - actually coming from the fertile romantic-realist core of French art, including Géricault (1791-1824), Delacroix (1798-1863), Daumier (1808-79), Courbet (1819-77)… – was, together with The Execution of Maximilian, veiled under the diktat neo-Kantian formalist-positivist.

For him, Manet's painting appeared as radically innovative because it was emptied of all thematic significance or in supposedly “anti-illusionist” terms, as they said. Also in line with this view, André Malraux (1901-76), a literate lover of the arts and Gaullist minister of culture, when referring to the painting about the Mexican episode, stated: “It is the Tres de Maio, by Goya, less what this painting means”. And the heretical writer and dissident of surrealism Georges Bataille (1897-1962), however, at this point, within the order, resumed and cited such judgment – ​​despite radical political and aesthetic differences in relation to Malraux’s positions –, ratifying it in his book Manet (1955)[viii]

We are now faced with the fourth level of accumulated inconsistencies and which resists despite recent changes. Traditional modernist formalism fell out of fashion, replaced by multiculturalism or varied eclecticism, brought by the so-called “postmodern” vogue. Consecutively, the Manet dossier was reopened from the large exhibitions, motivated by the ephemeris, in 1983, of the centenary of the painter's death, which occurred when the formalist paradigm and the prestige of modernism, associated with the so-called abstract art, collapsed in the face of the new “postmodern” vogue. Many readings then appeared with “contextualization” as a common denominator, that is, the remission of Manet's work to its original relations.


contemporary aversions

However, the problem still persists – except in the case of a study that I ignore – and it even stands out, such as the symptom of a repression in the MoMA exhibition (2006-7), whose catalog sought to contextualize The Execution of Maximilian, erratically multiplying references in multiple directions, without assuming, however, their republican political content.[ix]

The execution… continues to be rejected, denied or seen as an exception or an accident, never as a moment in a system, that of the construction of the painter's historical and realistic perspective. Currently, it is accepted that Manet's work is of semantic interest. The catalogs of the 1983 exhibitions contributed to this and, in particular, Clark's studies, the first of which is from 1980.[X]

Nevertheless, the discomfort of historians has metamorphosed and has now become the difficulty of explaining the coldness and distance with which Manet portrayed the motif of execution as an act of State, which at the time aroused intense reactions in the press and monarchies. European.[xi]

Manet executed his Maximilian in several attempts and, it can be noted, progressively… He started the first version in the weeks following the execution. The sources used at the time were indirect, unlike almost all of his work, which was the result of direct observation (including the 1871 lithographs about the Commune).

The first Execution of Maximilian It fed on material from the press, namely melodramatic and sensationalist articles by journalistic correspondents, graphic reconstructions of facts, photos that arrived little by little from Mexico, etc. However, Manet's work went against the grain, elaborating a different judgment and discourse on such materials. It systematically evolved towards a cold and detached treatment of the theme, as can be seen in the comparison of successive versions. The process, although systematic, has become enigmatic to most historians (formalists)… Why?

The tendency of the bourgeois ideological apparatus of art interpretation – that is, of official criticism and historiography, practiced in central nations and also in their derivative forms dependent on the periphery – coalesces into two lines of resistance to the canvas, which constitute authentic “defenses”, in the psychoanalytic sense of the term. Thus, they bar or interdict all effective interpretation.

The first of these blocks – rooted among French and English historians, but also disseminated elsewhere, as it involves two taboo themes, the ancestral “death of the father” by the primitive horde and the legitimation of revolutionary violence against tyranny – crystallizes in resistance changes, but generalized and active, regicide.

Manet painted the scene of regicide with the coolness of a routine operation. How can we not remember here the irony of Marx in the opening of the 18 Brumaire… (1852) by characterizing the episodes of the coup of December 2, 1851, which enthroned Napoleon III (1808-73) as a farce?[xii] Thus, in Manet's canvas, the figure of a non-commissioned officer who mechanically loads the weapon for the last shot, without even looking at the act in progress, underlines the predictable content of the act, equating it with the application of a law that closes a case. notorious for embezzlement and usurpation.


Kidnapping and anonymous grave

In summary, if the painter elaborated the execution of the tyrant in such a way as to empty his pathos and characterizing it as a repeatable act, the reception was shaped in the opposite direction. Thus, traumatized deep down, she sought to accommodate herself in appearance by denying or refusing to recognize the meaning of the canvas motif.

Changing in kids, both historians and part of the public, disposed against the painter, noticed the regicide and they censured (in the psychoanalytic sense) in painting the pictorial legitimation of the real situation. Immediately, to preserve the value of the canvas, they began to consider the painting as dissociated from the historical fact. Denied and fetishized, the canvas fell into the open ditch between the painter's historical judgment and the anti-regional bourgeois ideals of historians and art collectors.

Therefore, the reception of the canvas was not fundamentally altered by the historiographical re-elaborations and subsequent criticisms about the theme of the painting that denied the canvas its meaning, even if attributing a formal meaning to it due to the recognition of the capital value of Manet's work for history. of modern art. Thus, in the end, the result consisted of a mere compromise of interests. The new interpretation that was consolidated, although apparently accepting the framework, maintained, in short, the denial of the regicide and confined the canvas to the strict circle of anti-narrative or “anti-illusionist” languages.

Ultimately, the institutional and international strategy of the art medium has a certain parallel with the current procedure in some dictatorships, of carrying out the abduction of babies – who were kidnapped from leftist parents, jailed or murdered as political prisoners –, to be then brought up by families with opposing political values ​​(bourgeois and Christian). The Argentine military dictatorship (1976-83) used the resource serially, initiated, it is said, by the Spanish Falange in the Civil War (1936-9). In the history of modern art, dominated by a historiographical class dictatorship, the symbolic kidnapping of the painting in question by Manet was no exception. It is necessary to “open the pits” of the official historiography.


undesirable prediction

We know, in fact, that the events between August 1792 and Thermidor in July 1794, which include the regicides of Louis XVI (1754-93) and Marie Antoinette (1755-93), respectively in January and October 1793, were severely condemned, except for exceptions – that of the Marxist historiographic current of Albert Mathiez (1874-1932), Georges Lefebvre (1874 -1959), Albert Soboul (1914-82), Michel Vovelle (1933) and others close by. Among the bourgeois intelligentsia, including the social-democratic, the Girondin maxim of “finishing the Revolution” prevailed instead of continuing it through the expropriation of private property, as intended by the Commoners' Manifesto (1795) and the Conspiracy of Equals (1796), by Gracchus Babeuf (1760-97) and companions.

An example of this is the proscription of a certain portion of the painting by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) by official art history. Thus, his works from the years of the First Revolutionary Republic, from 1792 to 1794, were classified by official French historians as “unfinished”, or even as circumstantial sketches and, with such arguments, were marginalized in a kind of poetic minority.[xiii]

Manet's canvas suffered and continues to suffer a prolonged interdiction because it reopened the Pandora's box of the worst nightmares experienced not only by the aristocracy, but also by the bourgeoisie, which, like Macbeth, ended up identifying itself with the values ​​of the class it had dethroned.

Worse than unwelcome prediction, it is corrosive and dangerous irony to treat, as Manet did, the fall of empires as a routine process. Manet's proscribed canvas expropriates the epic feature of the neo-Bonapartist bourgeoisie and its substitutes, relegating them to the mere status of beneficiaries of passing success in business and primitive accumulation or colonial piracy.

Here comes the second reason for blocking the historical interpretation of the picture. It consists in refusing the legitimacy of revolutionary violence in the process of decolonization. Such refusal is widespread among art historians in central countries and echoes the foreign policy of their states.

It is necessary to insist on this point, that the empathy of the painter with the Mexican revolutionary republic and his agreement with the death penalty – imposed on the tyrant enthroned in Mexico by the arms of imperialist creditors (France, England and Spain), allied with the landowners enemies of the movement of the Reformation, led by the republican president Juárez (1806-72) – have never been properly considered by historians, despite the poor argumentation and the lack of reasonable explanations for the coldness and distance provoked by the painting (except for the aforementioned censorship argument and ex machina of the supposed anti-narrative content of Manet's painting).

Maximiliano embodied the colonial restoration, actualized in the financial subjection of Mexico to the European financial system: concretely, the denial of the sovereign right to the moratorium of an independent and decolonized Mexican State.

In other words, the Habsburg, without a throne in Europe, was nothing more than an emperor for hire, puppet of predatory contracts concocted by neocolonial bankers and speculators. It is very curious – or, rather, it is symptomatic – that such a phenomenon does not enter into the minds of official art historians! It shows well what and who they serve!


Manet and Baudelaire

But let us abandon the genealogy of mistakes! Truths and historical rigor are of no interest to the official history of art, associated with acts of primitive accumulation, at the root of the collections of the world's great museums, nor to “Roman pax” of the curatorial routine, which sanctifies property and celebrates private collections.

Let us focus on the issue of Manet's production process. What perspective did the painter have at that moment? The first version of the painting dates, according to estimates, from the period between July and September 1867.[xiv] In the wake of the fact, the beginning of the picture took place in parallel with the worsening of Baudelaire's illness (1821-67), a decisive interlocutor if not practically Manet's mentor;[xv] agony that lasted from Baudelaire's collapse on March 15 (approximately) 1866 until August 31 of the following year.

I absolutely do not intend to draw a parallel between the two deaths, whose meanings could not be more antithetical to Manet. By the way, Manet's contemporary painting on Baudelaire's funeral (L'Enterrement, 1867, 72,7 x 90,5 cm, New York, Metropolitan Museum), in contrast to the coldness of the canvas on Maximilian, is one of the most acute and poignant works of modern art in its way, as direct and momentary as it is full of evoke the loss of a friend, according to the outline of a fragmentary funeral procession.

However, it is worth noting that the choice of an emblematic historical theme and its development emerged in the course of the pain and mourning for the elder friend. They would hardly be oblivious to such a process. And, to appreciate the power and effect of such circumstances, it suffices to recall, in an analogous situation, the decisive essays written by Baudelaire shortly after Delacroix's death.[xvi]

In Manet's case, what connections would mourning and the choice of historical theme have established between them? Wouldn't it be reasonable to consider that, in the face of loss, the thirty-five-year-old young painter would be given the urgency of taking a step, that of continuing and fully achieving the project of his lost friend? Such a step would imply – why not? – the elaboration of the historical theme in line with Baudelaire's critical program: building a cosmopolitan epic – or internationalist, as it would later be called –, urban and anti-bourgeois, politically and ethically committed; and to be developed not by artists or virtuosos, whom the poet and critic despised, as shown below, but by “men of the world”.[xvii]


modern epic

What did Baudelaire understand by such a contraposition? In The Painter of Modern Life, late essay published in 1863,[xviii] same year that the young Manet presented Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (Lunch on the Grass, 1863, oil on canvas, 208 x 264 cm, Paris, Musée d'Orsay) at the Salon, Baudelaire established what he meant by modern art, at least in part.[xx] However, since the beginning of his critical activity, he had intuited the historical need to reformulate the idea and practice of art.[xx]

Thus, the awareness of the origin of modern art already emerged clearly in one of Baudelaire's first critical texts, “Le Musée classique du Bazar Bonne Nouvelle” (1846), even before his poetry. Modern art, for the critic, should be epic and be based on “sévères leçons de la peinture révolutionnaire [severe lessons of revolutionary painting]”. In this way, the said 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) or Marat at his Last Breath, as David initially wanted, would constitute the origin of modern art or, in another formulation also by the young Baudelaire, l'austere filiation [the austere affiliation] of the “romanticism, cette expression de la société modern (romanticism, this expression of modern society)”.[xxx]

Baudelaire's text is vibrant and illuminating, and unique as an announcement of the tensions that would flow into 1848. But this is not the occasion to extend beyond the founding role attributed by Baudelaire to the Marat…, by David, presented under the circumstances, with youthful and sincere vehemence, as “David's masterpiece”, “an unusual poem”, “gift to a desolate homeland” and a landmark of modern art.[xxiii]


painting and crisis

What to say about The Execution of Maximilian, in the light of Marat…, from David? And still Napoleon's consecration (Le Sacre de Napoleon, 1806-7, oil on canvas, 621 x 979 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre), also by David?[xxiii] Certainly, in the fourteen years between David's two canvases, French history has changed several parameters of the world. But now what is interesting to note is the kinship of Manet's canvas with elements of both paintings: with the direct gaze, close to the facts, of the Marat…; and with the ambivalence and icy irony of Consecration…[xxv]

Indeed, the settings and motifs of these three paintings could not be more diverse; in fact, they comprise political acts of historical meanings that are completely antithetical… What would the paintings of the assassination of a republican revolutionary leader have to do with the farcical consecration, however de facto, of a modern Caesar, and the execution of a fictional emperor – an idler and faker, a puppet with a majestic name, dubious power and decadent fortune?

Nevertheless, despite all the differences, it can be recognized that Manet's canvas shares with the two paintings in question a new pictorial mode, opened by David's works during the Revolution, but also potentiated by the experiences developed by Géricault, Daumier and others. In summary, these three screens (the Marat… and Consecration…, by David; and the Execution…, by Manet) imply the notion of history as knowledge and praxis, as a new field both for human action and for painting.

The three canvases completely escape the mold of academic painting of the historical genre, hypocritically edifying and based on neoclassical clichés or references to ancient history. Nor do they come close to the cases of hundreds of epigones of the restored academies, for example, of fire brigade such as Meissonier (1815-91), who swarmed throughout the XNUMXth century, painting military scenes with infinity in the background – as would the Stalinist “heroic” pattern of the following century.

On the contrary, David, Goya (1746-1828), Géricault, Daumier and Manet paint directly and closely the ongoing history, as something close and open to the subject. They refer to crises or burning episodes for public opinion, combined with points of view and pictorial fabric developed by artists, supposedly autonomous and responsible, even when working under the king's order, in the case of Goya. In this way, the paintings focus on contemporary characters, through new discursive procedures, such as the critical analysis of the present and the totalizing reflexive synthesis.[xxiv]

From the French Revolution onwards, painters worked in this recently de-theologized field, alongside writers, historians and thinkers; thus, for example, the relationship between Manet and Michelet (1798-1874) is known.[xxv] All participate in the construction process of a new discursive and cognitive sphere: that of history as a series of crises and the object of lay, open, rational and critical knowledge, permeated by clashing class ideologies and projects.


The Executions… in progress

In summary, the evolutionary process experienced in the different versions of Manet on The execution… it has the sense of a reflection in progress, through pictorial work combined with a totalizing critical judgment.

The first canvas, now in Boston, seems to evoke a sudden vision and the imaginary and sentimental experience of a chaotic act or disorder. It presents nervous and uncertain work, figures that appear like indistinct figures, with typically Mexican costumes. Perhaps influenced by the newspapers he had read, Manet seems to assume that Maximiliano's execution was the result of a mutiny or summary act, the work of guerrillas or peasant militia, never the work of the regular army of the Mexican Republic, presided over by Juárez.

The reason for the Mexican State – independent and republican – to judge and shoot the invader and his local acolytes – and which had been the object of censorship by the great European press – already appears on the second screen, today in London and of which we only know a few fragments, gathered posthumously. In these terms, it already brings certain elements of the definitive version: the composition is orderly, the soldiers belong to a state army, with uniforms similar to those of European equivalents.

In short, the painting is now about an act of state and martial justice rather than chaotic popular rebellion. Colors and their boundaries clearly define bodies, things and parts. The composition delimits the position of the platoon, through brushstrokes similar to those of the final version, including the figure of the non-commissioned officer located on the canvas on the right, already sketched in the first version, but now clearly caught in the task of cocking the rifle, to conclude the act with the final shot.

The biggest differences of this version, belonging to the National Gallery, from London, before the final version reside in the natural environment that surrounds the figures. The relief of the ground, the elevated line of the horizon, highlighted in light colors, and the intense blue of the sky diffuse a radiant light in the scene. This results in a certain sublimity, albeit ironic, since everything is saturated, in the manner of popular Catholic prints of the lives of saints. In this way, the overall effect of the composition suggests implying the vital force of nature, which acts as the main witness of the drama, without being contrasted by any building or human work.

By pretending to lend a voice to nature, Manet approaches a constitutive element of …Third of May… (On May 3, 1808, Los Fusilamientos en la Montaña del Príncipe Pío, 1813-14, oil on canvas, 268 x 347 cm, Madrid, Museo del Prado), by Goya,[xxviii] in which a rise of ground in the background seems to envelop the patriots in a consoling mantle, while the gloomy, gloomy sky floats over the scene. In these terms, the execution painted by Goya involves a judgment and a pathos, attributed to the theater of nature.

However, in Manet's London sketch – which is possibly the second version of the motif –, the meaning of the painted natural element is ambiguous and uncertain, or rather, it is suspended by the irony of the false sublime.

The final canvas, now in Mannheim, presents the organicity of a systematizing reflection; of a result in which the work of treating the different components of the work in a unified way is concluded. Everything unites and determines reciprocally and, despite the comprehensive and complex content of the elements involved, results in a compact whole of meanings. The visual field and point of view, already outlined in the first version, define a look closer to the facts than that of Goya's painting.


Close up view: republican principle

The close and direct gaze, which suggests a lively and intense proximity – at the distance of a body or even an arm, say, between the foreground and the observer – had already been used previously by Manet in Olympia (1863, oil on canvas, 130,5 x 190 cm, Paris, Musée d'Orsay). As a pictorial device, such a way of seeing goes back to the Marat… from David, to the critical program of Diderot (1713-83) and, more remotely, to Caravaggio (1571-1610). It proposes the idea of ​​direct participation of the observer in the scene.

In the case of paintings with high political voltage, such as the Marat… e The Execution of Maximilian, such a pictorial device assumes republican content, visually building the feeling of historical action in the first person. Later on, Eisenstein (1898-1948), an expert narrator of the greater story – as well as in the first person taken in the guise of the collective –, would frequently resort to such a scheme.

In keeping with republican sentiment, the overall tone of the painting is strongly rational. The framework implies shooting as a historical requirement or logical necessity, without giving rise to pathos of the parties nor to the melodrama mounted at the time by the European press, anti-republican and adept at colonialism and imperialism.

In order to emphasize the political rationality of the act, A Execution of Maximilian accentuates contrasts, dissociates colors, determines their limits, specifying each thing. The gray and geometric wall in the background stands out, a solid and objective image of the law as an impassable construction. Bounded by the solid, a strip of sky can be seen in the background, some trees and, in the distance, a strip of land.

No May 3th…, by Goya, remember, heaven and earth frame the human gesture. Differently, in The Execution of Maximilian, the built environment conditions and determines the reflective apprehension of the act. The clean soil, the solidity of the wall, the social order of things established by man stand out. Here, neither nature nor the transcendental sphere of sublimity, but a political and spatial order is what produces the scope of meaning.

There is also a Chorus, however, devoid of the dramatic content of the one that Goya had included in his painting in empathy with the executed patriots. In Manet's work there are some popular ones, perched on the wall, between the curious and the indifferent – ​​but only one shows any emotion. The composition underlines the absence of drama; absence highlighted in the busy figure of the non-commissioned officer in the foreground, on the right.


Republican and anti-bourgeois painting

However, formalist historians – art historicists – surreptitiously disregarded and concealed from the viewer the political meaning of Manet's glacial irony when treating a new case of regicide (magno), for the French public, as routine. A fact that reached, in a single blow, the Austrian imperial house of the Habsburgs (emblematic of the Ancien Régime on a European scale) and even Napoleon III, the architect of the farce of the Mexican Empire, through the coupling between a Habsburg and the local landowner. Thus, formalist historians ruled that Manet's painting froze the scene represented, because it intended to make itself autonomous from the narrative function (sic)!

In such a way, The execution…, according to the formalist interpretation, would not imply judgment or any interpretation of a historical event, but would bring a valid premise before any theme, that is, constant for the understanding of Manet as an anti-narrative artist, supposedly interested only in “making paintings” and nothing else .

In their eagerness to escape history, the formalists also disregarded Manet's relationship with Baudelaire... Now, it must be remembered that the latter judged pejoratively the specialist artists [expert artists], dedicated solely to painting, such as “homme attaché à sa palette comme le serf à sa glèbe… [man chained to pallets, servants of the field…]”. For Baudelaire, similar painters, disconnected from the political world, would be nothing more than mere hameau cervelles [provincial brains] etc.[xxviii]

What the formalists, nor the European historians,[xxix] is that the modifications or differences present in Manet's work, compared to the elements in Goya's canvas, constitute precise and determined measures, corresponding to different, if not inverse, meanings formulated by the painters in relation to the motif.

In summary, if Goya intended to arouse disgust at the shooting, Manet, on the contrary, elaborates the scene with ironic coldness, consistent with the outcome. Such coldness is deliberately reflective. Its antecedent is that of David, when he fixed it in a drawing (Marie-Antoinette Allant à l'Echafaud, 1793, dessin, 15 x 10 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre), made in flagrante delicto and which expressed his political position of regicide, the figure of Marie Antoinette, enemy of the Nation, being led through the streets of Paris to the guillotine in 25 Vendemiaire of the Year 2.

In short, the fallacies and blind conservatism of the formalists prevented Manet from being considered, along with Daumier and Courbet, as heir to the sentiment regicide and revolutionary of the First Republic.

The proof that Manet does not abdicate meaning, but, on the contrary, orients it according to his understanding of the theme, is strongly highlighted in his images of 1871 on the massacre of members of the Commune, perpetrated by the troops of Versailles. . The so-called Bloody Week, in May 1871, would take place less than four years after Maximiliano's execution.

To represent the summary executions of the Communards, Manet appropriates the same compositional structure as the painting about the republican triumph in Mexico, but inverts the meaning, the dramatic value of things. Here, in the defense of the victims, Manet comes close to the dramatic intensity of Goya and Daumier, in terms of texture and luminosity. Accordingly, he portrays the commonard who faces the platoon, arm in the air, challenging the executioners of Versailles.

The work, in its different versions, in watercolor and gouache, and also in lithographs,[xxx] emphasizes plebeian sacrifice and bravery, as well as condemnation of slaughter. In these works, the windows of Paris are the witnesses of the scene. But here, unlike the Mexican wall, severe in the face of the disastrous fate of the tyrant and his Mexican cronies – who concocted the farce of the Empire against Juárez’s Reform –, the grid of the windows in the background does not appear coldly geometrized, but rather such a expressive and supportive physiognomy to the resistance of Communards. The windows, witnesses of the Commune, memory tinged by the meaning of things, come to life in the eyes of the observers of these images.

They seem to stare at us keenly.

* 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).

Portuguese version of chap. 6, “Regicide Returns”, from the book La Conspiration de l'Art Moderne et Other Essais, edition and introduction by François Albera, translation Baptiste Grasset, Lausanne, Infolio (2022/ scheduled for the second half of the year).



[I] A total of four canvases and a lithograph are known: (1) ca. jul. – sep. 1867, oil on canvas, 196 x 259,8 cm, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts; (2) ca. sep. 1867- Mar. 1868, oil on canvas, 193 x 284 cm, London, National Gallery; (3) 1868, lithograph, 33,3 x 43,3 cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum; (4) 1868-9, preparatory sketch for the final painting, oil on canvas, 50 x 60 cm, Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek; (5) 1868-9, final canvas, Mannheim, oil on canvas, 252 x 302 cm, Städtstiche Kunsthalle.

[ii] According to Juliet Wilson-Bareau: “Manet considered it (the final version of The Execution of Maximilian, 1968-9) one of his two or three most important paintings, and, in a list of works made in 1872, he valued it at 25.000 francs, alongside Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe”. See idem, “Manet and The Execution of Maximilian”, in idem, Manet: the Execution of Maximilian/ Paintings, Politics and Censorship, London, National Gallery Publications, 1992, p. 69.

[iii] On February 7, 1869, the Gazette des Beaux-Arts also reported censorship. To see Idem, ib..

[iv] According to letter from Mme. Morisot, who fiercely censors the painter's involvement with the Commune, Manet would have been rescued at the moment of being shot alongside others. Communards and together with his friend Degas (1834-1917), thanks to the intervention of his brother-in-law Tiburce Morisot, who assured the repressive troops sent by Versailles that the two painters were of bourgeois origin. See Françoise CACHIN, Manet, transl. Emily Read, New York, Konecky & Konecky, 1991, p. 100.

[v] It is worth mentioning the study by Nils Gösta Sandblad (Manet, Three Studies in Artistic Conception, Lund, 1954), which I did not have access to and which was, it seems, the first to deviate from the formalist consensus.

[vi] See J. Wilson-Bareau, Manet (…) Censorship, op. quote..

[vii] After the exhibition in the USA, in 1879-80, and the death of Manet in 1883, the canvas was, so to speak, forgotten, until it was re-presented in London – almost twenty years later – in 1898. In France, the first exhibition in The Execution of Maximilian would only occur in 1905, in the Salon d'Automne, in Paris. See John Leighton and J. Wilson-Bareau, “The Maximilian Paintings: Provenance and Exhibition History,” in J. Wilson-Bareau, Manet (...) Censorship, op. cit., p. 113; see also pp. 69-70.

[viii] See Georges Bataille, Manet, intro. Françoise Cachin, Genève, Skira, 1983, pp. 45-53.

[ix] See John ELDERFIELD, Manet and the Execution of Maximilian, cat. Manet and the Execution of Maximilian (New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Nov. 5, 2006 – Jan. 29, 2007, ed. by J. Elderfield), New York, MoMA, 2006.

[X] See Timothy J. Clark, “Preliminaries to a possible treatment of 'Olympia' in 1865” (1980), in Francis FRASCINA and Charles HARRISON, Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology, New York, Icon Editions/Harper and Row, 1987, pp. 259-73; and also ditto, The Painting of Modern Life/ Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers (1984), New Jersey, Princeton, University Press, 1989; Modern Life Painting/Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (1984), trans. José Geraldo Couto, Sao Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2004.

[xi] The case also affected monarchical circles in Brazil, but the Brazilian public at the time had, on the other hand, the possibility of following, in a very different perspective, the Mexican process against the Habsburg invader, through the various critical chronicles by Machado de Assis (1839-1908) since Maximilian's coronation, published in Diary of Rio de Janeiro on: 20.06.1864 [see M. de Assis, “June 20, 1864” (Diary of Rio de Janeiro), in ditto, Chronicles, vol. II (1864-1867), Rio de Janeiro/ São Paulo, Book of the Month SA, pp. 17-27]; 10.07.1864 [see idem, “July 10, 1864” (Diary of Rio de Janeiro), in idem, pp. 37-46]; 24.01.1865 [see idem, “January 24, 1865” (Diary of Rio de Janeiro), in idem, pp. 276-86], 07.02.1865 [see idem, “February 7, 1865” (Diary of Rio de Janeiro), in idem, pp. 303-12]; 21.02.1865 [in this article, the author was obliged to tone down his opinions, see idem, “February 21, 1865” (Diary of Rio de Janeiro), in idem, pp. 293-303]; 21.03.1865 [In this article and in the following one, dated 11.04.65, Machado was forced to insert, next to his articles against Maximiliano, two letters, signed by a supposed “Friend of the truth”, contesting his arguments and apologizing for the imperial regime in Mexico under French protectorate, see idem, “March 21, 1865” (Diary of Rio de Janeiro), in idem, pp. 331-47]; 11.04.1865 [see idem, “April 11, 1865” (Diary of Rio de Janeiro), in idem, pp. 361-70]. References can also be found in the poems “Epitáfio do México”, included in Chrysalis, and in “La Marchesa de Miramar”, about Carlota, Maximiliano's wife, included in cliffs. See idem, “Epitaph…” in Complete work, org. Afrânio Coutinho, vol. 3, Rio de Janeiro, Nova Aguilar, 11th reprint, 2006, p. 22; “La Marchesa…”, Idem, pp. 43-5. The first comment, in passing, is found at the end of the article on the death of actor and man of the theater João Caetano (1808-63), published on 01.09.1863. See ditto, Machado de Assis/ Theatrical Criticism, vol. 30, WM Jackson edit., Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Recife, 1961, pp. 169-78. I am grateful to Iná Camargo Costa for indicating Machado's chronicles and I am also grateful to José Antonio Pasta Jr. for the bibliographic diligences about the poems.

[xii] “Hegel observes in one of his works that all the facts and personages of great importance in the history of the world occur, as it were, twice. And he forgot to add: the first time as a tragedy, the second as a farce ”. Cf. Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in idem, The 18th Brumaire and Letters to Kugelman, trans. by Leandro Konder and Renato Guimarães, Rio de Janeiro, Paz e Terra, 5th ed., 1986, p.17.

[xiii] For an example of such a position, see Antoine Schnapper, Arlette Sérullaz, cat. Jacques-Louis David 1748-1825 (Paris/ Versailles, Musée du Louvre/ Musée National du Château de Versailles, 26 Oct. 1989 – 12 Feb. 1990), Paris, RMN, 1989. Certainly, it is still part of the policy of surveillance and confinement of David's work by French museology the fact that it remains in the Louvre – where the unfinished seem to be deviations or accidents – and not in the Orsay museum, where the company of other modern works would give David’s unfinished sayings a precursory and effective content, and not anomalies, as wants to make the official historiography believe. that the ex-damn The origin of the world (1866, oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm, Paris, Musée d'Orsay), by Courbet, has already found a place of honor in the Orsay – while the republican works of David, on the contrary, have not – says well, on the one hand , of the new place of sex, covered in the laissez-faire capitalist, and, on the other hand, of the ban that weighs, however, in the Fifth French Republic at the origin regicide of the First Revolutionary Republic.

[xiv]  See J. Wilson-Bareau, “Manet and The Execution…”, on. cit., pp. 51-5. The execution took place on June 19, but the news did not reach Vienna by cable until the 29th. Napoleon III received the news from Vienna also by cable on July 1, the day on which the solemn handover of the Universal Exhibition prizes would take place. of the emperor. However, it was not until the 5th of July that Maximilian's death was officially publicized in Paris, through an announcement by the President of the Assembly – a personal political disaster for II Bonaparte, chief architect of the adventure.

[xv] For an example of both the ascendancy and proximity between Baudelaire and Manet, just consult the letter from the first to the second, dated 11.05.1865, from Brussels. See Charles BAUDELAIRE, “165. To Édouard Manet/ [Bruxelles] Jeudi 11 May 1865”, in idem, Correspondence, choix et présentation by Claude Pichois et Jérôme Thélot, Paris, Gallimard, 2009, pp. 339-41.

[xvi] 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. 31-33.

[xvii] For the contrast between “homme du monde [man of the world]” and “artist”, see below and also the discussion below.

[xviii] Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne It was published in three parts in Le Figaro (26, 29.11 and 3.12.1863). On the opposition in such an essay between the types of the “homme du monde [man of the world]” and the “artist”, see chapter III, “L'artiste, homme du monde, homme des foules et enfant”, immediately preceding the decisive “La modernité” (IV) and “L'art mnémonique” (V) in C. Baudelaire, Le Peintre…, op. cit., in idem, Complete Oeuvres, texte établi, présente et annoté par C. Pichois, vol. II, Paris, Gallimard/ Pléiade, 2002, p. 689. For extract of the passage and discussion of typology, see below.

[xx] See LR MARTINS, “The conspiracy…”, op. cit., pp. 29-31; 35-44.

[xx] “… l'heroïsme de the modern way nous entourage et nous presse…Celui-là sera the painter, le vrai peintre, qui saura arracher à la vie actuelle son côté épique… [… the heroism of modern life surrounds us and hurries us… It will have to be the painter, the true painter, the one who knows how to extract its epic side from current life...]”. Cf. C. Baudelaire, “Salon of 1845”, in idem, Listen…, op. cit., p. 407.

[xxx] Cf. ditto, “Le Musée classique du bazaar Bonne-Nouvelle”, in Idem, pp. 409-10.

[xxiii] Same, ib.. For details, see “Marat, by David: photojournalism”, in LR MARTINS, Revolutions…, op. cit., pp. 65-82.

[xxiii] At least two of Manet's paintings, in my view, reveal the latter's direct attention to David's canvases: Olympia (1863, 130,5 x 190 cm, Paris, Musée d'Orsay), which pays homage to Mrs. recamier (1800, 174 x 224 cm, Paris, Louvre), by David, and Déjeuner dans l'Atelier (1868, 118 x 154 cm, Munich, Neue Pinakothek), which incorporates elements from the scene of La Douleur d'Andromaque (1783, 275 x 203 cm, Paris, Louvre), by David. On the second case, see Michael FRIED, Manet's Modernism or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1996, p. 105; see also, for similar approximations, reporting Manet to David, pp. 95, 160, 351-2, 497 n. 170. For the relationship between Olympia e Mrs. Récamier, see LR MARTINS, Manet: A Businesswoman, Lunch in the Park, and a Bar, Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 2007, pp. 67-9.

[xxv] For the ironic and satirical dimension of Consecration…, with its figures “endimanchées [endomingadas]” et “des parvenus [arrivistas]”, situated “un peu (dans) l'univers de Goya [a little in Goya's universe]” and “déjà le monde de Balzac [e already in the world of Balzac]”, see Régis Michel and Marie-Catherine Sahut, David/ L'Art et le Politique, Paris, Gallimard-NMR 1988, pp. 105-7.

[xxiv]  For this new field of research that Foucault called “ontology of the present time” or even “ontology of ourselves”, see Michel Foucault, “Qu'est-ce que les Lumières? [What are the Lights?]" in Literary Magazine, no. 207, May 1984, pp. 35-9 (excerpt from the lecture of January 5, 1983, at the Collège de France), in idem, Dits et Écrits/ 1954 – 1988 [Sayings and Writings…], ed. établie sous la direction de Daniel Defert et François Ewald with the collaboration of Jacques Lagrange, vol. IV/1980-1988, Paris, Gallimard, 1994, pp. 562-78, 679-88.

[xxv] For the ties between Manet and Jules Michelet (1789-1874), the romantic historian who initiated, in his History of the French Revolution (1846-53), the rescue of the Revolution and in it valued the anonymous heroism of the people, see Michael FRIED, on. cit., p. 130-1, 404.

[xxviii] The Prado Museum's visitors' book records Manet's presence, signed on September 1, 1865. Works by Goya extolling the uprising were discreetly displayed in the corridors. See J. Wilson-Bareau, “Manet and the Execution…” on. cit., P. 45-7.

[xxviii] “Lorsque enfin je le trouvai (Constantin Guys), je vis tout d'abord que je n'avais pas affaire précisement à un artist, plus plutôt à un man of the world. Comprehend-ici, je vous prie, le mot artist dans un sens très restreint, et le mot man of the world dans un sens très etendu. Man of the world, c'est à dire homme du monde entier, homme qui comprend le monde et les raisons mystérieuses et legitimes de tous ses usages; artist, c'est à dire specialiste, homme attaché à sa palette comme le serf à sa glèbe. MG n'aime pas être appelé artiste. N'a-t-il pas un peu raison? (…) L'artiste vit très peu, ou même pas du tout, dans le monde moral et politique. (…) Sauf deux ou trois exceptions qu'il est inutile de nommer, la plupart des artistes sont, il faut bien le dire, des brutes très adroites, de purs manoeuvres, des intelligences de village, des cervelles de hameau  [When I finally found him (Constantin Guys), I soon saw that I wasn't looking at a artist, but before a man of the world. Understand here, I ask you, the word artist in a very restricted sense, and the word man of the world in a very broad sense. man of the world, that is, a man of the whole world, a man who understands the world and the mysterious and legitimate reasons for all practices; artist, that is to say, a specialist, a man tied to his palette like a servant to his field. Mr. G. doesn't like to be called an artist. Isn't he a little right? (...) The artist lives very little, or even nothing, in the moral and political world. (…) With the exception of two or three exceptions that it is useless to name, the majority of artists, it must be said, are very skilful broncos, pure manual workers, village intelligences, village brains]”. (emphasis added) Cf. C. Baudelaire, Le Peintre de…, on. cit., P. 689.

[xxix] John House refers, not without some perplexity, to what he calls the painting's ambiguity, and goes so far as to consider the Mexican reasons for the execution, without however effectively advancing in the interpretation of the painting from a republican point of view. However, it escapes the general trend towards apolitical interpretations, including that of Juliet Wilson-Bareau, the book's editor. For another, possibly different position, see note 5, on Sandblad's interpretation. See J. HOUSE, “Manet's Maximilian: history painting, censorship and ambiguity” in J. Wilson-Bareau, Manet and the Execution of Maximilian/ Paintings, Politics and Censorship, op. cit., pp. 87-111.

[xxx] See, for example, Édouard MANET, The Barricade (1871, 46.2 x 32.5 cm, silver point, ink, watercolor, gouache, Budapest, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum); idem, The Barricade (1871, 46.8 x 33.2 cm, lithograph, London, The British Museum); idem, The Barricade (1871, china paper: 48.5 x 33.2 cm, stone: 53.2 x 41 cm, paper: 70 x 54.8 cm, lithographic pencil on paper, rare state proof, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts).

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank