I love small exhibitions, because they allow me to savor each artwork and absorb all sorts of little details I wouldn’t otherwise. Manet: Three Paintings from the Norton Simon Museum, a trio of paintings by Édouard Manet (1832-1883) on loan to the Frick Collection in New York, does just that. This lovely show provides a great opportunity to examine Manet’s style in detail through three works that reveal different sides of the famous Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia painter.
The exhibition includes the sketch-like portrait Madame Manet (c. 1876), textural still life Fish and Shrimp (1864), and monumental The Ragpicker (1867-71/76-77). The show doesn’t follow a specific narrative or theme, and the works don’t have much in common beside their authorship and ownership. Instead, the show’s primary attraction is the simple pleasure of examining three diverse Manet paintings in detail. In the peaceful grandeur of the Frick’s Oval Room, it’s possible to enjoy these works at your leisure.
The wall texts and 95-page catalogue by exhibition curator David Pullins focus on Manet’s evolving style, which is easy to observe in the show’s intimate setting. And there is much to notice in this area.
Madame Manet, one of Manet’s many portraits of his wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, has a sketch-like and unfinished appearance. The contrast between with her detailed face and her sparsely-indicated clothing is obvious but somehow still harmonious. In Fish and Shrimp, by contrast, the paint is thick and highly textural. This work makes it clear why Manet has been such an inspiration to generations of modern artists. The massive The Ragpicker is closest to the Manet art history remembers today. It boldly portrays a Parisian ragpicker, who collected and re-sold discarded goods, on a monumental scale rarely afforded to such a humble character.
The Frick’s own Manet, The Bullfight (1864), appears in an adjacent gallery. Once again, it is completely different in both subject and style from the Norton Simon Manets. I saw this work with new eyes after having absorbed everything Manet: Three Paintings from the Norton Simon Museum had to teach me.
Manet: Three Paintings from the Norton Simon Museum is now on view at the Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, New York City. It opened on October 16, 2019 and runs until January 5, 2020. Visit the Frick’s website for more information.