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Manet and the Family Romance

Manet and the Family Romance

by Nancy Locke

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Edouard Manet's paintings have long been recognized for being visually compelling and uniquely recalcitrant. While critics have noted the presence of family members and intimates in paintings such as Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe, Nancy Locke takes an unprecedented look at the significance of the artist's family relationships for his art. Locke argues that a


Edouard Manet's paintings have long been recognized for being visually compelling and uniquely recalcitrant. While critics have noted the presence of family members and intimates in paintings such as Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe, Nancy Locke takes an unprecedented look at the significance of the artist's family relationships for his art. Locke argues that a kind of mythology of the family, or Freudian family romance, frequently structures Manet's compositional decisions and choice of models. By looking at the representation of the family as a volatile mechanism for the development of sexuality and of repression, conflict, and desire, Locke brings powerful new interpretations to some of Manet's most complex works.

Locke considers, for example, the impact of a father-son drama rooted in a closely guarded family secret: the adultuery of Manet père and the status of Leon Leenhoff. Her nuanced exploration of the implications of this story—that Manet in fact married his father's mistress—makes us look afresh at even well-known paintings such as Olympia. This book sheds new light on Manet's infamous interest in gypsies, street musicians, and itinerants as Locke analyzes the activities of Manet's father as a civil judge. She also reexamines the close friendship between Manet and the Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot, who married Manet's brohter. Morisot becomes the subject of a series of meditations on the elusiveness of the self, the trnasience of identity, and conflicting concerns with appearances and respectability. Manet and the Family Romance offers an entirely new set of arguments about the cultural forces that shaped these alluring paintings.

Editorial Reviews

A work that seamlessly weaves social history and psyochanalysis. . . . Locke maintains organization and clear writing, carefully reasons her methodology, does not overstretch her assertions, and provides sufficient documentation.
Ruminator Review
Where would art history be without scholars such as Locke pushing the limits? Whether or not her hypotheses withstand the test of time, her superbly researched and argued study posits new avenues for reading the work of Manet as well as a whole generation of artists consumed with their own family romances.
— Kristin Makholm
The Art Bulletin
I think that Locke's study of Manet is indispensable. . . . She challenges received ideas with real gusto and brilliance.
— Richard Brettell
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The rich bibliography surrounding 19th-century painter Edouard Manet includes stimulating books by Anne Coffin Hanson and T.J. Clark that describe Manet's revolutionary and inventive approaches to art with imaginative interpretations. Nancy Locke, an associate professor of art history at Wayne State University, here weighs in with a psychoanalytical view of the paintings, based less on Freud than on more recent French thinkers like Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan. Unlike more formalist art criticism, which focuses on shapes and brush technique to the exclusion of content, her basis for this approach is that Manet often used members of his family as models, such as his illegitimate son, who pops up in a variety of poses in the artworks. The result, divided into chapters like "Family Romances," "Manet Pere et Fils," and "The Promises of a Face," is presented in deadly solemn academic prose, but with a common sense that shines out from behind her Gallic forebears: "For Manet, every act of painting was grounded in resistance to everything for which his family name stood: there was the authority of the judge [his father], the property, the income, the receptions, tradition, the family honor." Balancing personal influences with social meanings, the paintings have a variety of resonances, which Locke brings out in a language mainly suited for academic art historians, although civilian art lovers may want to give it a try for its unusual perspectives. Illus. (May) Forecast: University libraries are this book's natural market, and the price may well prove prohibitive elsewhere. But the volume's idyllic and well-laid-out cover, and its biography-based title could attract some high-end browsers. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

"A work that seamlessly weaves social history and psyochanalysis. . . . Locke maintains organization and clear writing, carefully reasons her methodology, does not overstretch her assertions, and provides sufficient documentation."--Choice

"I think that Locke's study of Manet is indispensable. . . . She challenges received ideas with real gusto and brilliance."--Richard Brettell, The Art Bulletin

"Where would art history be without scholars such as Locke pushing the limits? Whether or not her hypotheses withstand the test of time, her superbly researched and argued study posits new avenues for reading the work of Manet as well as a whole generation of artists consumed with their own family romances."--Kristin Makholm, Ruminator Review

Product Details

Princeton University Press
Publication date:
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7.94(w) x 10.12(h) x 0.69(d)

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Chapter One


"Father," he said to me, "I had such a strange dream that I am truly upset you will learn of it; it is perhaps the work of a demon, and ..." "I absolve you," I replied, "a dream is always involuntary; it is only an illusion. Speak from the heart." "Father," he said then, "I had barely fallen asleep and I dreamed that you had killed my mother; that her bloody shadow appeared to me to demand vengeance, and at this sight I was beside myself with such fury that I ran like a maniac to your apartment, finding you in your bed, I stabbed you."

Duhaget, formerly the priest of the charterhouse of Pierre-Châtel, as retold by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

When Thomas de Quincey wrote of "the couch of Orestes" in the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater of 1821, he was calling up two images at once: on the one hand, the barrage of thoughts and dreams that tormented Orestes after his murder of his mother, and at the same time, the tender attention of his sister Electra. One might say that Orestes' delirium is entirely created and aggravated not by the wishes of the god Apollo, but from within the house of Agamemnon. In a footnote, De Quincey refers the reader "to the early scenes of the Orestes,—one of the most beautiful exhibitions of the domestic affections which even the dramas of Euripides can furnish." The image serves De Quincey's purpose of describing his feverish opium dreams, and the extent to which the devotion of his "own Electra," his faithful wife, Margaret Simpson, was both acomfortand a substitute for the love of his own sister.

    Baudelaire's "Les paradis artificiels," an essay on opium and hashish accompanied by his translation of excerpts from De Quincey's Confessions and its sequel, Suspiria de Profundis, appeared in Paris in 1860. Baudelaire explains De Quincey's theory of the mind as a palimpsest of indestructible memories by quoting the English author:

Yes, reader, countless are the mysterious handwritings of grief or joy which have inscribed themselves successively upon the palimpsest of your brain; and, like the annual leaves of aboriginal forests, or the undissolving snows on the Himalaya, or light falling upon light, the endless strata have covered up each other in forgetfulness. But by the hour of death, but by fever, but by the searchings of opium, all these can revive in strength. They are not dead, but sleeping. In the illustration imagined by myself from the case of some individual palimpsest, the Grecian tragedy had seemed to be displaced, but was not displaced, by the monkish legend; and the monkish legend had seemed to be displaced, but was not displaced, by the knightly romance. In some potent convulsion of the system, all wheels back into its earliest elementary stage. The bewildering romance, light tarnished with darkness, the semifabulous legend, truth celestial mixed with human falsehoods—these fade even of themselves as life advances [...] but the deep, deep tragedies of infancy, as when the child's hands were unlinked for ever from his mother's neck, or his lips for ever from his sister's kisses, these remain lurking below all, and these lurk to the last. Alchemy there is none of passion or disease that can scorch away these immortal impresses.

This passage becomes transparent onto the family romance of De Quincey as analyzed by John Barrell: one of the memories that lurks to the last is certainly that of the last time De Quincey kissed the body of his beloved sister Elizabeth, a memory that remained laced with guilt. It is also a model of the mind and of memory, one which is not all that different from the stratographic model used by Freud at the turn of the twentieth century. And it suggests a recognition of the power of the hallucination and the opium-induced dream to access the experiences and feelings of earliest infancy.

    Memories and experiences accumulate in the palimpsest of the mind like snows on the Himalayas, says De Quincey. And dream states blow away those "oriental" snows to reveal the earliest impressions of mothers and sisters, kisses and embraces, just before they were torn away from us. Freud would later theorize that a dream represented the fulfillment of a repressed wish, but De Quincey and Baudelaire, among other nineteenth-century thinkers, already recognized the elements of childhood longings that could resurface in dreams.

    This chapter aims to map the fascinating terrain of dream theory in mid-nineteenth-century France. Although it is the paradigm of the dream image that interests me, and that I think could be related to aspects of Manet's composition and style that have remained unexplained, in delving into the world of the dream one necessarily encounters mostly textual accounts of these night visions. The chapter, then, will be more textual than the ones that follow. I will be paying particular attention to the thinking of writers' in Manet's circle, such as Baudelaire and Edmond Duranty, as well as to the models of dream theory that interested them, such as De Quincey and Alfred Maury. Some of the central questions that occupied these thinkers had to do with moral responsibility and individual autonomy with respect to the appearance of desires in dreams. Near the end of the chapter, I will test the applicability of these notions on a few images in the work of Courbet, Manet, and Cézanne.

    Manet's art is often explored as a representation of modern life, but "modern life" remains a problematic construction, and the extent to which modern-life subjects actually provided links to the past—society's or the child's—needs to be explored. Manet's images of street people, gypsies, Spanish dancers, society personages, and artist friends are sometimes discussed tautologically, as if the artist were interested in those subjects because they were intrinsically "modern," and as if they were modern because he chose to paint them. It was, of course, equally a concern of Manet's to rework the art of the past. The art of Vel zquez, Hals, Titian, Murillo, Marcantonio, Watteau, Rubens, Brouwer—ad infinitum artists and sources—not only presented subjects, techniques, and pictorial solutions for Manet, but also seemed to represent art itself, or an aspect of "Art" or "Painting" that Manet felt it necessary to take on, re-create, or negate. The art of the past was a more explicit concern for Manet than it had been for his predecessor Courbet, or for many of his contemporaries in landscape; hence, it must be understood as particular to Manet and not as a stage through which modernism or modern-life painting necessarily had to pass. We could perhaps say that in addition to the art of the past as a subject, that the past itself was a subject—or even, as Malcolm Bowie says of Freud—"the past is a character" for Manet.

    Let us recall the Manet of T. J. Clark, the Manet for whom modernity is not a set of exciting new subjects just waiting to be painted, but a set of problems, or a series of dislocations: on the one hand, the sweeping changes of Haussmann's Paris, on the other hand, an ever-present sensation of that which was passing away; on the one hand, a set of strange new motifs and subjects, on the other hand, a context for seeing them that was itself shifting, which was alternately celebratory and unsettling. One gets a sense in paintings such as The Old Musician (fig. 3) that despite the painting's evident concern for the people marginalized further by Haussmannization, these figures are neither quite seen as victims nor quite established or monumentalized by the painting—at least, not in the manner of Vel zquez's Water-Seller of Seville. The Old Musician has a haunting, uneasy way of juxtaposing the members of this motley assembly. They may look strikingly familiar, the way street people repeatedly encountered become recognizable to many urban dwellers. Yet neither that sense of recognition nor any amount of ink spilled on Haussmannization, Baudelaire's influence, or figures taken out of Watteau, Vel zquez, and Le Nain, will make the painting seem plausible. And this implausibility is a central problem to be contended with by any discussion of the picture's modernity, for it becomes less comprehensible on account of its glaring unlikelihood.

    Seven figures sit or stand in a friezelike arrangement in the painting. The two end figures, usually identified as a young gypsy girl at left and the figure possibly described in Manet's notebook as "the old Jew with a white beard," face inward; the others, including the baby held by the girl, all face frontally. The nondescript space in which the figures stand serves to focus attention on the figures, but it also highlights the disjunctions in scale between them: the boys look too large with respect to the musician; the cloaked figure (Manet's own Absinthe Drinker) is too small with respect to the boys but too large to be behind the musician, and so forth. As Theodore Reff points out, the grassy setting could remind Parisians of open spaces still prevalent beyond the barrières, as the types in the picture—gypsy, beggar, itinerant, clown—were mostly associated with the city and its margins. Although they stand in close proximity, they display disparate gestures and poses and appear to come together only in the most ad-hoc manner. Their very unrelatedness is key to the strange unreality of the image as a whole.

    The painting's haunting quality is what prompts me to invoke the dream image as an explanatory mode. By doing so, I do not wish to diminish any account of the painting as a highly politicized image of figures who were subject to harassment by the police, regulation by the authorities, and displacement by Haussmann's destruction of La Petite Pologne in the Batignolles. The Old Musician is very much a politicized painting that responds to those social realities. But it does not become transparent in its concern over the plight of these figures, or even in its uneasy homage to earlier masters. I introduce the term "dream image" hoping to allude to what Baudelaire, or Walter Benjamin writing about Baudelaire and Paris, would mean if they were to consider the painting to be a dream image. For them, the word "dream" would likely conjure the diorama, the photograph, or the shock of a new boulevard in the space of a familiar building. The suggestion of a dream might be connoted in the eerie ways in which the image appears as a reappearance (the figures appear familiar, as if they have been seen before, but also gathered together inexplicably), the way it represents an internalization of an earlier series of encounters with some of these characters, or perhaps most tellingly, the way the image displaces the figures from their discrete contexts and projects them onto what is almost a blank space. Such an internalizing recombination is not quite the same thing as a modern-life painting of a scene simply out there waiting to be painted. The insistent frontality of Manet's figures, noted by Richard Wollheim, can be understood as another characteristic of the dream image, and it creates a situation in which the spectator, or the painter, appears to be at the center of the action. What the spectator sees is less a scene of Parisian life, and more an actionless restaging of assorted perceptions and encounters. Even Manet's friend Théodore Duret, recalling decades later the novelty of The Absinthe Drinker (fig. 4), would write: "It is true that it was conceived in the realistic manner which was then so much detested; but, as the unusual costume of the Spanish model gave it almost an air of fantasy, it seemed more or less removed from the reality of everyday life." Integral to the difficulty of Manet's realism was the very way in which the all-too-real figure of the homeless drunkard was somehow set apart from the ambient reality. Duret's words "qualité d'Espagnol" and "fantaisiste" connote the quality of otherness that gives the paintings a slightly shocking, estranging quality despite their rootedness in social reality.

    Of course, there is no such thing as an unmediated image of modern life, but it is striking to note the difference between the way Courbet's Stone Breakers, for example, presents a convincing scene and the way The Old Musician does not. Manet's image is not held together by the kind of sensory immediacy that binds Courbet's. One could say that Courbet in this example sought to create an illusion of unmediated perception and considered that illusion to be the animus behind the painting's rawness. Manet, by contrast, relied on the kind of fictional license that makes possible Ingres's Apotheosis of Homer or Raphael's Parnassus: La Petite Pologne as Le Parnasse contemporain. By thinking about the idea of the dream image in the nineteenth century, I suggest that we can get at the animating fiction behind The Old Musician and Manet's work in general, that we can attend to the actual oddness of the images, that we can begin to think about the way "modern life" in Manet is keyed in to various pasts, public and private.

    Put another way, to try to incorporate a specifically nineteenth-century idea of a "dream image" apropos of Manet's art is to transform, but not abandon, an idea of "context." Common sense tells us that dream images include elements out of everyday life mixed with highly idiosyncratic reactions, memories, and emotions, which rearrange those "real" elements and introduce fantastic and unreal elements. A work of art is certainly not a mere transcription of something out there in the world, and what art history often must tease out of the work is the extent to which it both transcribes some aspect of the world that needs to be reconstructed and struggles against that reality in its form or in its view of the world (what was, what could be, what would be ideal).

    Another way of looking at The Old Musician, then, would begin with the social realities already known about the painting: Jean Lagrène, the gypsy violinist; figures taken from Manet's large-scale painting The Gypsies, later destroyed (fig. 5); the repression of the outcast gypsies in nineteenth-century Paris; the beggar-boys reminiscent of Manet's Boy with the Cherries, which pictured the young studio assistant who hanged himself in Manet's studio; the reappearance of The Absinthe Drinker, Manet's first Salon submission, a portrayal of a shiftless drunkard not unlike a character out of Les Fleurs du mal; La Petite Pologne, a neighborhood razed by Haussmann as the XVIIème arrondissement came to be constructed. Into the mix, add Manet's interest in Courbet, Caravaggio, Vel zquez, Watteau, and the Le Nain brothers. Manet dated the picture 1862 and exhibited it at the Galerie Martinet in early 1863. This was precisely the period during which Manet was in close contact with Baudelaire, and in which he was beginning to experiment with ways of combining poses, costumes, and compositions of Old Master paintings with figures and elements of modern life.

    We learn from Antonin Proust that he and Manet strolled around Paris, witnessed various scenes of destruction and renovation, spotted various characters, and discussed subjects for paintings such as The Street Singer (fig. 6). In all likelihood, Manet and Baudelaire did the same thing. Manet had been doing paintings that involved some of the characters from The Old Musician for years. If we picture Manet and Baudelaire walking through La Petite Pologne, or standing in Manet's studio looking at The Gypsies or The Absinthe Drinker, Baudelaire might well have been reminded of a section of Thomas De Quincey's Suspiria de Profundis of 1845 called "Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow," which Baudelaire had just translated almost in full in Les Paradis artificiels. Its subject also appears to have influenced Baudelaire's poem "Les Dons des fées," published in September 1862. In De Quincey's oeuvre, the piece not only stands as a compelling prose poem in its own right, but it also figured as the author's sketch for the philosophical and structural key for the entire Suspiria.

    The prose poem concerns the Roman goddess Levana, who presides over the child's education, and the three sisters, Our Ladies of Sorrow. De Quincey's narrator, whom the reader is encouraged to consider as De Quincey himself, claims to have seen Levana in dreams. Levana delegates an earthly representative—often a child's father—to raise the child to the heavens right after its birth, defying the gods in the process. This prideful gesture marks the beginning of the kinds of ambitions for children and for children's education that lead to the likes of sending them to Eton at age six. "Children torn away from mothers and sisters at that age not unfrequently die," writes De Quincey. In the dreams in which Levana is revealed to De Quincey, the three sisters are also seen communing with the goddess. Each sister has a realm, and her works are invisible on earth except through signs and symbols, which De Quincey is able to translate into words. The eldest sister, Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears, stands by the vanished: children who are taken from their parents, the children massacred by Herod, the child who had served as guide to a blind beggar, left in darkness as his child is taken to God. The second sister, Mater Suspiriorum, Our Lady of Sighs, "is the visitor of the Pariah, of the Jew," of the criminal, the penitent, the slave, "every captive in every dungeon; all that are betrayed, and all that are rejected; outcasts by traditionary law, and children of hereditary disgrace: all these walk with Our Lady of Sighs," writes De Quincey; "her kingdom is chiefly among the tents of Shem, and the houseless vagrant of every clime." The third sister, Mater Tenebrarum, Our Lady of Darkness, "is the mother of lunacies, and the suggestress of suicides." The work thus links the repressive stringencies of the proper education with being snatched away from one's parents and becoming an outcast in society, a lunatic or a suicide.

    There is not a figure in The Old Musician who had not already been touched upon by De Quincey's description of the subjects in the realm of one of the three sisters: they are the forgotten, the vanished, the rejected; Alexandre the young suicide is among them either in body or in spirit. The text has proximity to Manet via the translation Baudelaire labored over during the period when he and Manet were in close contact. In his later letters to Baudelaire, Manet gives every indication of having read Baudelaire's works with interest. Of course, there are differences in tone: De Quincey's text is personal and melancholy, and he uses the story of the sisters to illuminate his own access to various "abominable" and "unutterable" truths. Manet's painting has clear connections to modern Paris and to various sources in the history of art. But what links the characters in Manet's painting if the old musician himself is not in the middle of a concert, if the gypsies are away from the gypsy camp, if the absinthe drinker has wandered away from his bottle and his perch?

What People are Saying About This

Hollis Clayson
Manet and the Family Romance will be a thunderbolt thrust into the community of Manet scholars,recasting our comprehension of some of the touchstones of modern painting in terms of the Freudian family romance. Nancy Locke's persuasive psychoanalytic study has also unearthed precious and altogether new information about the artist's family and the social and personal conditions in which he worked. Indeed,a central achievement of this book is its demonstration that social history and psychoanalysis need not be mutually exclusive.

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