P. Rain Gianneschi-McNichols in collaboration with Armstrong Students for the
Exhibition: MANET & THE SEA, Art Institute of Chicago
Performance: The Last Flowers of Manet
The stage is dark, fading into spotlight on:
he sits in a chair looking out an open window.
Outside the window we see the sea. We can hear the sounds of the ocean in the background. He is at his easel painting a still life. On the table beside him are flowers. He is very ill.
Enter Suzanne Valadon, as a child. She is carrying her charcoal & paper under her arm, her hair askew, face covered with charcoal dust.
running onto the stage shouting, “I am a monkey! I am a cat!”
“Who is there? I see you peeking through the window! Suzanne,
come here, Come show me what you have?” SUZANNE V:
Mm. Manet, I have brought more flowers for you to paint. MANET:
“Put them here Suzanne, with all the others.” SUZANNE V:
“And look at my drawings! Are they good?” MANET:
“Yes, my dear. There is something bold and daring in these drawings.”
You see, MM.Manet, I watched, and I listened, and now I too am destined to be someone special.
But I must be off, mother is waiting for me at
home, good-bye. I will come again tomorrow to
how you are. We miss you at the cafe mm. Manet, you must
get well.” I will see you soon!
MANET: “Goodbye, my little dear.”
(to the audience)
“And so I paint these little paintings. I who tried to bring to painting
a new subject matter, a new style, now I am confined here, to paint my little flower paintings. The subject matter I owe to
Courbet, but the style, that was my own. I painted the new modern man. I gave them the modern woman, exposed as she
really is,no longer hidden from the parlors and drawings rooms of the respectable citizens of Paris. I painted what I saw, in the
streets, in the cafes, I painted paintings of my time. But now I paint the flowers brought to me by my loyal friends and
followers. Little memorials to me as they watch my life and my art wither away. And my sea. My beloved Sea. Ah!
The water belongs to Monet.”
(slides of Monet & Manet’s water paintings)
THE DISPOSSESSED SCENE
As a champion of the Avante Garde, Eduaord Manet was seen as
the representative of the new and radical forms of painting in
Paris in the late 1800’s. The term “impressionism” , was applied
to many diverse styles, deviating from traditional salon painting. ( slides of the salon paintings)
Despite the confusion, Manet stood alone, he is not considered a true impressionist. He remained a studio painter, only dabbling in plein air painting during the last two years of his life, painting
alongside the artist, Claude Monet.
(slide of Monet)
“Art is a circle, you’re either in or out by accident of birth.”
“I never wanted to make a protest through my paintings. I neither wanted to overthrow the art of the past or to create a new order. I think one must be of one’s own time and paint what one sees.”
(slides of Manet’s work)
Although Courbet led the way in recognizing how the humble and
ordinary is worthy of the artist’s attention; Manet may well be the first of the moderns.
(Slides of Courbet)
Courbet revolutionized the artist’s approach to subject matter.
Manet revolutionized the artist’s approach to style.
(slides of Manet)
Together they are the begetters of the modern movement.
“Recreating historical figures, what a fine joke!
There is only one authentic thing: to paint directly what you see. When you hit it, you’ve really hit it!
when you haven’t, you start over.
All the rest is humbling..”
His confidence even as a young art student, made him very
popular. When he left Couture’s studio in 1856 he carried with him the aura of a revolutionary. He did not hurry to exhibit.
“You must constantly remain a master, and do what you please!
You are not a painter if you do not love painting more than anything else! Knowledge is all very well, but for us you see, the
imagination matters more.”
“After leaving Coutour’s studio in 1856, Manet set up his own
studio. It was here that he painted The Absinthe Drinker, his first submission to the salon, and his first rejection.
This disappointment marked the beginning of Manet’s lifelong quest for recognition through and from the Paris Salons.
Enter the Absinthe Drinker & the Rag picker (Danny & Graeme)
MANET: “A Poem by Baudelaire…
A rag picker stumbles past wagging his head, and bumping into walls with a poet’s grace
pouring out his heartfelt schemes to one and all, including the spies of the police.” (Bauldelair)
“I was the dark image image of a figure from the Paris street. A
victim of absinthe, it took over my life.” RAGPICKER:
“A rag picker, cloaked, top hatted, with something crazy in my pose.”
“You see Manet, your friend the poet, didn’t he tell you that you
must be yourself?” MANET:
“That’s what I always told them, but wasn’t I myself in The Absinthe Drinker?
And yet they put me down.
I painted you, aParisian type.
“They might better have liked it had you painted a Spanish type.”
(to the audience)
“Manet chose to portray us, the alienated figures of the streets of the new Paris.
(Slides of the new Paris)
(to the audience)
“We, the poor displaced representatives who were forced
out of our neighborhoods
by the new constructions, to house the rich.”
(slides of Velasquez, Aesop, and Menippus) RAGPICKER:
“ Manet greatly admired Velasquez”s imaginative portraits of the philosophers Aesop and Menippus.”
“I found in these works a realization of my ideal in painting, the
view of these masterpieces has given me great hope and confidence!”
Enter the old musician (slide of the old musician,)
He joins the Absinthe Drinker & the Rag picker RAGPICKER:
The old musician has long been regarded as Manet’s first painting of modern Paris, in this painting he represents the new homeless who had recently been dispossessed of their slum
quarters just about the same time he did the painting.
THE OLD MUSICIAN:
“There is much more to this painting than you see at first, here Manet tried to convey his most detailed secrets within the
symbolism. The grapevine harks all the way back to antiquity! The legendary contest between two Greek painters of the 5th century.
Manet has taken the story by Pliny, and like the poet has engaged in a complex interweaving of
observation, memory and thought.
“He painted you as the musician, but in fact it was Manet himself
concealed in the allusion.”
(slides of SPANISH PAINTINGS)
MELISSA: (Manet’s early paintings / spanish influence)
“Manet’s preoccupation with Spanish themes during the 1860’s was crucial to his development and brought him his first success at the salon. His interest in Spain had been awakened in boyhood
by the Spanish collection at the Louvre and by the Hispanomania that had continued in French literature and music since the 1830”s.
SPANISH BALLET SCENE
(ON SCREEN :Spanish Ballet of 1862. Dancers begin to take position,
LOLA: “Uno, Dos, Tres.” Music begins
ALL CAST MEMBERS:
“Bravo Bravo” (Slide changes to Lola’s portrait)
“I am Lola de Melea, known to Manet as the famous Lola De
Valence, I was part of the da dance company during the summer of 1862.
Bauldelair influenced Manet through his writing and
poetry, as he did in the poem he wrote for me. (on screen a portrait of Baudeliar)
“A Poem to Lola, by Bauldelair”
“Amongst the many beauties one sees everywhere,
I well understand, friends, that desire hesitates to choose;
But one sees sparkling in Lola De Valence The unexpected charm of a pink and black jewel.”
‘Like so many of my paintings, this one too caused a scandal.’
“Bauldelair was a great supporter of the dance troupe and
attended all of our performances. Manet traveled to Spain and studied the many works of Goya and Velasquez. Goya was a
great influence to Manet. He took what he learned and it became his own art . The Belgian painter Alfred Stevenson had
Camprudi bring the Spanish dancers to his studio, it was here that I posed for my portrait.
Manet painted me as if I was about to go on the stage.
His painting is a record of how he himself saw me” (Dancers take portrait pose)
On the stage we see Olympia (Tia), The Street Singer, and The Matador, ELIZABETH:
“Manet’s visions did not always happen. This was because the people he saw left before he could ask them to pose. For the women in his paintings, the most common model and his favorite
was Victorine Meurant, who posed in the Matador, Luncheon On the Grass, Olympia, and the Street Singer.
(slides of these works)
(“The Negress” comes to life)
“I, so darkly hidden in the famous painting “Olympia” have come to introduce to you to the many faces of Victorine.
Victorine Meurant was about 18 years old when she came into acquaintance with Manet.
“He favored me because of my unusual appearance.”
Victorine was known as a “fantastic character” who played the
guitar and who could also paint. OLYMPIA:
“I exhibited in the salon in 1876 when Manet’s own paintings were rejected, and again in 1879.”
(OFF-STAGE : Rain, playing guitar) We see the Street Singer.
“Who is that beautiful girl with the guitar?”Where on earth did she come from?
“Oh! Beautiful girl, singer, lady on the street…singer…!!!
That is what I will call her, The Street Singer!
Ah well, never mind, I have Victorine!”
“Although he tried to persuade the girl to pose for him, it is said she laughed and disappeared. Manet rushed to find Victorine.
He had an idea coming on…”
“Victorine, today while I was on the street I saw the most extraordinary woman.
This woman, on the street, she was playing the guitar.
I call her, the street singer. I must paint her, a creature this beautiful must be painted.”
(We see Victorine as the Spanish Matador, as Zainab steps up) (Perhaps some movement here)
“Here gazing at us when she should be concentrating on the bull,
is Victorine Meurant, disguised as a bullfighter. This context only served to heighten the model’s femininity. Is this not an unusual
costume and an unusual occupation for a young woman? THE MATADOR:
“The year Manet painted me as the Matador, was the first year I began posing for him.
“In the painting, you are wearing a spanish costume. “
“Zola the brilliant writer, influenced Manet by telling him of a
in his studio, which he might Spanish tailor in Paris.
collection of costumes he had seen have gotten from a
“So even though Manet did not go to Spain until 3 years after he
painted the Matador, Zola’s
influence brought the Matador to life.”
“I confess I would rather pursue more tender conquests and …if I
had to choose a companion excelled at making jam, or another at killing bulls, it is the first that I would pick!”
For thirteen years Victorine Meurant was Manet’s constant model.
Her great talent lay in her ability to change her appearance like a great actor.
Manet, always remaining the gentleman, was allowed a look at
the bohemian world through her eyes. With her Manet could explore the hidden face of reality,
the other side of the grand gesture, the lie, the bluff, the travesty.
“ I introduced him to other mores, views and values.
THE NEGRESS: “In a culture designed by men for men.”
THE STREET SINGER: “ I represented a break from false morals.”
OLYMPIA: “I was the incarnation of truth.”
THE MATADOR: “He never tried to make me beautiful.”
THE STREET SINGER: “He made me real.”
‘”He challenged the traditions of the salon paintings of women,
particularly the female nude. “ MANET:
“To paint the truth, the real truth…this is what I seek to do.”
(on the screen: “LUNCHEON ON THE GRASS”)
“This scene in particular, made a shocking debut at the Salon de Refuse in 1863.
This painting made many people think, “My God, what indecency!”
How could a woman without any clothes be
placed between two men?
“The crowd thought that the artist had instilled an indecent and disturbing design in his subjects.”
“Here I painted the modern Venus of the modern Paris, capital of
the modern world. Victorine, the studio model no longer portrayed as mythical ,
I brought her here into the painting as a realistic portrait.”
On May 15, 1863 The Salon De Refuses opened to an impatient crowd of 7,000 visitors.
Manet submitted his three rejected works of that year, including Luncheon on the Grass.
Again Manet shocked the public with his submission to the 1865
Salon. With his masterpiece “OLYMPIA”, Manet outraged the critics and the public.
We are not invited to stare at Olympia’s nakedness as part of
some remote scene from made-up history. There is no excuse or
pretense for her nakedness. Instead, we are confronted with a modern day courtesan who is unashamed and self-possessed, aware of the power of her body. Olympia’s power lay in her gaze.
Here I, Victorine, am painted as the naked truth. The critics could
not mask their recognition of Olympia from their own experiences, and they were angry that the real world had invaded the safe
world of art.
Manet painted Olympia to show the world and the salon that not
all women of the time wore nets over their faces and elegant dresses down to their ankles. Manet showed the world that there is black and white, rich and poor, also elegant and disgraceful. He showed both sides of the world, not only what one wants to
“I painted what I saw”.
“After Manet’s death, Victorine Meurant wrote a moving letter to Manet’s widow.
THE STREET SINGER: (seen reading a letter to Mm. Manet).
“You know that I posed for a large portion of his paintings, notably, Olympia, his masterpiece.
M. Manet was concerned about meand often said that if he sold his pictures he would set aside a
gratuity for me. I was young then, and carefree.
I left for America.When I returned M. Manet had sold a large number of paintings
and told me that a share of the money was mine.
I refused, thanking him warmly, and added that when I could no longer pose I would remind him of his promise.
That time has come soonerthat I expected.”
Victorine went to America at the end of the 1860’s.
She returned to France in 1872 and disappeared into oblivion.
It was the end,they say, she soon turned to drink.
(POSSIBLE SCENERY CHANGE HERE)
CAFE GERBOIS SCENE
(on stage we see Suzanne V. with her paintings rolled up under her arm, peeking at the group of painters in the cafe.
She has charcoal, and sketches on the street.
“The scandal of this painting made Manet the star of the
exhibition. Manet was now recognized in the streets and cafes, and a group of younger artists began to see Manet as their
teacher and mentor.”
(slides of his work)
The Cafe Gerbois became the meeting place and later on, a
school of Manet’s Gang. It began after Manet painted Olympia. The artistic establishment had refused to accept and even
mocked Manet’s paintings. Even though he faced all this, he held no contempt against the establishment.
“He still painted for the love of it, and continued to submit to the Salon each year. Manet wanted to paint differently, and because
of that, many artists and poets thought of him as a rebel or a revolutionary of some sort.”
Men flocked to Manet for advice. He disliked the attention, though he put up with it. He actually started even to teach some of these
younger artists, Cafe Gerbois became his classroom. MONET :
“Now you are as famous as Napoleon III , Manet” MANET:
“Well, I may not be royalty, but with all of you smothering me, I could be mistaken for one with royal lineage.”
‘I cannot believe that an artist such as yourself who paints nothing
more than mere scrawls can gain so much attention.” MANET:
“ Monet, if I draw nothing more than mere scrawls, than why is it that you are following every motion of my brush with the utmost
attention and awe?” RAGPICKER:
“Oh! Manet you are the merry fighter without hatred or discord for anyone, like an angel who tries to untether freedom from the evils of the world by using only a brush. I adore you Manet, for your
gaiety, which you possess even amongst all the hate and injustice that you have been faced with.” MANET:
“Renoir, have you been studying poetry as well as painting? Alas,
though, I am no rebellious angel who paints to free humanity from evil. I am but a mere old man who paints for the love of it. But
who knows what I will become?”
(portrait of Emile Zola on screen)
THE ABSINTHE DRINKER: “Manet, Zola said: “ In the eyes of all the enlightened seekers, you
are the most inspirational figure that ever was! If all of your fortune was to turn amiss, I would still remain by your side, trying to
compel you to advance after all the fires had devoured your splendor to ashes.”
“Zola I may inspire, but I assure you it is not intentional that I do
so. Besides I already told Renoir, Monet & the others that I am no God or holy figure. You need not express your loyalty, I am aware
of where your loyalties lie.” (slide of the balcony on screen)
EVA GONZALEZ / BERTHE MORISOT SCENE
The most important figure in Manet’s personal and artistic life as
of 1868, was the one who could never sit and argue at the tables of Cafe Gerbois. A respectable woman did not cross the
thresholds of such establishments, and the artist Berthe Morisot was a respectable young woman.
Like Manet she was born into the upper bourgeoisie, with taste
and cultivation, but she was not rich or formally educated. Her
interest in art was the result of her mother’s care that she and her sister study art. She and Edma, studied under Corot.
The Morisot family belonged to an upper class art circle that
attended weekly soirees, Manet entered the social circle of the Morisots in 1868
Berthe had appreciated Manet’s originality as a painter before they
ever met, and over the years her admiration grew. She may have been the only one of his contemporaries that understood the
complexity of his art.
(On Screen: Morisot paintings)
Twelve paintings document the relationship between artist and
model. In every portrayal of Morisot there is a dialog between the model and the painter. Morisot interested him as the model for the modern woman. Their relationship remains a mystery, What is left are the passionate paintings of Berthe that reveal a deep
affection between the model and the artist. BERTHE:
“To me Manet is a decidedly charming person who pleases me
immensely. His paintings give the impression of strange or even unripened fruit. To me they are far from unpleasant. In “The
Balcony”, I am more odd than ugly.
(Manet & Morisot gazing, engaging)
Manet’s images of Morisot are entirely generated by her presence. The paintings are about how she gazes at him and their
relationship as artist and model is one of exchange. BERTHE:
“I am not painted in costume, as Victorine was, but as I really am.” THE NEGRESS:
Her person, her hair, her moods, she is never disguised as someone other than herself.
His portraits of Morisot are elegant, sensual, beautiful, engaging,
passionate and delicate. During his lifetime he kept eleven oil portraits he did of her, and gave her two. After his death she
managed to buy a third. BERTHE:
“The portraits suggest that the relationship between Morisot & Manet went beyond that of model, colleague or social
At times her own work suffered due to severe nervous tension. BERTHE:
“My inaction is beginning to weigh on me EDMA, I am impatient to do something fairly good. Today as I walked into the studio, to show Manet my latest work, who do I see sitting for Manet, no one more, no one less, than Eva Gonzalez.”
“Eva Gonzalez was a talented and attractive woman 8 years younger than Morisot who belonged to her social milieu and
Manet’s. To make matters worse when Gonzalez approached Manet she did so as a pupil catering to the painter’s vanity.
Morisot was very jealous of the relationship between Gonzalez and Manet.”
(On stage Gonzalez is sitting and Manet is teaching her) EVA:
“MM.. Manet, you flatter me. Your absence has been too long. I am happy to sit for you, and privileged that my father has arranged for
me to study with you. How shall I render this piece for you? (JUST THEN WE HEAR A KNOCK AT THE DOOR.)
Enter Berthe & Edma
“Ah! Berthe, Edma come in come in. It is a pleasure to see you
both again. Berthe, have you met my student? Let me introduce you to the talented Eva Gonzalez. Ms. Gonzalez has agreed to sit
for me.” ` BERTHE:
“Sit for you? For what?” If she is your student, why does she pose?”
“Well, Ms. Berthe Morisot, MM. Manet has insisted that I pose for
him, and I have happily agreed to do so. He has also invited me
to become his one and only art student. Ms. Morisot, is it not true that you too, are a painter, and that you too have posed for Manet?”
“Yes, madame, but I am no one’s student. I am an elegant,
beautiful, engaging, passionate and delicate painter.”
EVA: ( sincerely)
“Well. Ms. Morisot I am so envious of your many
accomplishments, for you have been living longer than I, and Manet’s portraits of you speak for themselves.” MANET:
(interrupting the conflict between them)
“Eva, please, come show Berthe one of your latest works.”
BERTHE: (with attitude) “No, no, I must be going now.”
(Now speaking to her sister)
“Manet preaches at me, and offers the inevitable Madame
Gonzalez as an example: He says: she has bearing, perseverance, she knows how to carry something through,
whereas, to Manet, I am not capable of anything. In the meantime he begins her portrait again for the 25th time. She poses
everyday, and every evening, her head is washed out with black soap.”
“Miss Gonzalez makes me feel annoyed, I don’t know why, I
imagine Manet has considerably overestimated her and that we have or rather you have, as much talent as she.”
Berthe Morisot went on to become one of the founding members
of the Impressionist movement, she exhibited twice at the annual Paris Salon, once when Manet himself was rejected. She married
Manet’s younger brother and remained close to Manet throughout the remainder of his life.
(ALL ACTORS ON STAGE IN PORTRAIT STYLES, W/FRAMES AROUND MANET
(Manet is in hIs chair with companions all around) MANET:
“I adored costume and decoration, you can see it in the many portraits I did of society women. I tried to paint my time. Paris was changing, and society, too. Everything that has the spirit of humanity, the spirit of contemporaneity, is interesting. Everything
devoid of it is worthless.
(slides of Cimabue & Giotto)
“The great masters had Cimabue, and Giotto. My friends, we have
(slides of Manet’s work)
“I am concerned here with something much larger…the symbolic
conception of a work of art…which covers the whole field of life. I believe they never understood what I was trying to do.
And you Monet, you are like the Raphael of water. You paint the
sea. You understand all her mystery and all her moods.” RAGPICKER:
“And you Manet, you paint truth. RAGPICKER:
“It is more than brushstrokes and shimmering water.”
“You paint truth.”
(ON SCREEN:The Bar at the Follies’ Bergere)
“I painted myself. It is I who is sad, I who bids farewell to all of
you. Like a good friend, I look back and think, I painted my self. I can no longer hide my illness and I am unable to do more than this. These small reflections, each one a story in itself. I paint the last flowers of Manet.”
(to the others and the audience)
“He was greater than we knew”.
Cast of Charachters
Suzanne Valadon Eduoard Manet Absinthe Drinker Rag Picker
Victorine / The Matador
Victorine / The Street Singer Victorine / Olympia
Berthe Morisot Edma Morisot Eva Gonzalez Claude Monet
Narrator 1 Narrator 2 Narrator 3 Ballarina
Elizabeth Mellisa Sara