Vanessa Attardo

Édouard Manet did not visit Spain until 1865; however, it was evident much earlier in his career that Spanish culture and the artwork of 17th -century Spanish artists such as Diego Velázquez played a major role in influencing his work. Manet was not alone in his fascination with Spanish culture; he and the rest of French society during the first part of the century were enchanted by the exoticism associated with Spain. The first arrival of Spanish painting into France occurred during 1808 when Napoleon conquered Spain. From that point on, hundreds of paintings were shipped to the Louvre, making Spanish art readily available to the French people. It was not until 1838, that the first official display of Spanish painting took place at the Galerie Espagnole in the Louvre. The gallery, containing a collection of more than 400 paintings, remained open until 1848, just long enough for a then sixteen year-old Manet to have been aware of the paintings (Tinterow 2003, 68). One of Manet’s earliest works, Absinthe Drinker (1859, NY Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen), brings to light his desire to capture the essential modernity seen in works after Velázquez, like Francisco Goya’s A Philosopher (Moenippus) (1178), and the print Philip IV after Velázquez (1862), and his desire to translate a sense of Velázquez’s “Spanishness” into his own work.

Manet’s Absinthe Drinker (Figure 1) depicts a Parisian type, an alcoholic of sorts, who at the time would have lived on the outskirts of society. The figure stands proudly on the large vertical canvas, with a cape wrapped defiantly around him and a glass of absinthe and the empty bottle nearby, in a “jarring juxtaposition of the modern Parisian type with high-art traditions” (Lajer-Burcharth 19). The paint is applied in a hastily fashion with flat planes of color that create a shallow space, limiting the volume of the figure and condensing the scene onto one plane. Manet has simplified figure and background in a way that suggests a certain cutting and pasting of borrowed elements from other paintings. It seems as if he found certain parts of other paintings to copy and the final is merely a collage of all the parts he was interested in.


Figure 1. Figure 2. Figure 3. Figure 4.

Édouard Manet, Absinthe Drinker