Friday, June 11, 2010

Paintings I Like, pt. 54

Edouard Manet, Portrait of Emile Zola, 1868. Oil on canvas, 58" x 45."

What first strikes me in these pictures, is how true is the delicate relationship of tonal values. Let me explain... Some fruit is placed on a table and stands out in front of a grey background. Between the fruit, according to whether they are nearer or further away, there are gradations of color producing a complete scale of tints. If you start with a "note" that is lighter than the real note, you must paint the whole in a lighter key; and the contrary is true if you start with a note which is lower in tone. Here is what I believe is called "the law of values." I know of scarcely anyone of the modern school, with the exception of Corot, Courbet, and Edouard Manet, who constantly obeys this law when painting people. Their works gain thereby a singular precision, great truth and an appearance of great charm.

Manet usually paints in a higher key than is actually the case in Nature. His paintings are light in tone, luminous and pale throughout. An abundance of pure light gently illuminates his subjects. There is not the slightest forced effect here; people and landscapes are bathed in a sort of gay translucence which permeates the whole canvas.

What strikes me is due to the exact observation of the law of tone values. The artist, confronted with some subject or other, allows himself to be guided by his eyes which perceive this subject in terms of broad colors which control each other. A head posed against a wall becomes only a patch of something more, or less, grey; and the clothing, in juxtaposition to the head, becomes, for example, a patch of color which is more, or less, white. Thus a great simplicity is achieved - hardly any details, a combination of accurate and delicate patches of color, which, from a few paces away, give the picture an impressive sense of relief.

I stress this characteristic of Edouard Manet's works, because it is their dominating feature and makes them what they are. The whole of the artist's personality consists in the way his eye functions; he sees things in terms of light color and masses.

- Emile Zola, excerpt from "A new manner in painting: Edouard Manet," 1867