The theme of this painting, Vanitas, or the fleeting nature of life symbolised by the soap bubbles, is given a unique interpretation by Manet, although aspects such as the dark background, the simple forms and the restrained nature of the composition appear to evoke a work of the same title by the 18th-century French painter Jean-Siméon Chardin (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Yet here, the allegorical content is not given precedence over the artistic autonomy of the visual discourse. Manet creates his own form of expression and, through the motif, asserts his sensorial perception, his subjectivity. Moreover, the theory that the work may constitute the artist’s reflection on the eternal nature of art cannot be dismissed.
It should also be noted that the model (Léon-Édouard Koëlla, Manet’s stepson) appears various times in the artist’s work over a period of several years. Finally, the free and direct style of the whole, with its clearly defined figure accentuated by the contrast between light and shade, calls to mind the genius of great masters such as Murillo and Frans Hals.
Albert and Henri Hecht, Paris; Emmanuel Pontremoli, Paris, 1916; Georges Bernheim, Paris, 1916-18; Berheim-Jeune, 1918; Durand-Ruel, Paris, New York, 1918-19; Adolf Lewisohn, New York, 1919. Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian through André Weil, New York, November 1943.
H. 100.5 cm; W. 81.4 cm
Denis Rouart and Daniel Wildenstein, Édouard Manet. Catalogue raisonné. Lausanne/Paris: La Bibliothèque des Arts, 1975, vol. I, pp. 122–3, no. 129.
Manet, 1832–1883, exhibition catalogue. Paris: Galeries nationales du Grand Palais; New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983, p. 268–70, no. 102.
Luísa Sampaio, Painting in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Lisbon/Milan: Calouste Gulbenkian Museum/Skira, 2009, pp. 218–19, cat. 98.
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, 2011, p. 182, cat. 161.
Manet inventeur du Moderne, exhibition catalogue. Paris: Musée d’Orsay, 2011, p. 176, no. 134.
Manet. Portraying Life, exhibition catalogue. Toledo: Toledo Museum of Art; London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2012, pp. 84–5, 179, no. 9.
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