Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (English: The Luncheon on the Grass) –
originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) – is a large oil on canvas
1 Description and context 2 Figures in the painting 3 Interactions of the figures 4 Inspirations 5 Critique and controversy
5.1 Critiques of the subject matter 5.2 General response
6 Commentary of Émile Zola 7 Inspired works 8 References 9 External links
Description and context
The painting features a nude woman casually lunching with two fully
dressed men. Her body is starkly lit and she stares directly at the
viewer. The two men, dressed as young dandies, seem to be engaged in
conversation, ignoring the woman. In front of them, the woman's
clothes, a basket of fruit, and a round loaf of bread are displayed,
as in a still life. In the background, a lightly clad woman bathes in
a stream. Too large in comparison with the figures in the foreground,
she seems to float above them. The roughly painted background lacks
depth, giving the viewer the impression that the scene is not taking
place outdoors, but in a studio. This impression is reinforced by the
use of broad "studio" light, which casts almost no shadows. The man on
the right wears a flat hat with a tassel, a kind normally worn
Despite the mundane subject, Manet deliberately chose a large canvas
size, measuring 81.9 x 104.1 in (208 by 264.5 cm), normally
reserved for historical, religious, and mythological subjects. The
style of the painting breaks with the academic traditions of the time.
He did not try to hide the brush strokes; the painting even looks
unfinished in some parts of the scene. The nude is also starkly
different from the smooth, flawless figures of Cabanel or Ingres.
A nude woman casually lunching with fully dressed men was an affront
to audiences' sense of propriety, though Émile Zola, a contemporary
of Manet's, argued that this was not uncommon in paintings found in
the Louvre. Zola also felt that such a reaction came from viewing art
differently than "analytic" painters like Manet, who use a painting's
subject as a pretext to paint.
There is much still not known about the painting, such as when Manet
actually began painting it, exactly how he got the idea, and how and
what sort of preparation works he did. Though Manet had claimed
this piece was once valued at 25,000 Francs in 1871, it actually
remained in his possession until 1878 when Jean-Baptiste Faure,
opera-singer and collector, bought it for just 2,600 Francs.
Figures in the painting
The figures of this painting are a testament to how deeply connected
Manet was to Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Some assume that the
landscape of the painting is meant to be l’île Saint-Ouen, which
was just up the Seine from his family property in Gennevilliers. Manet
often used real models and people he knew as reference during his
creation process. The female nude is thought to be Victorine
Meurent, the woman who became his favorite and frequently portrayed
model, who later was the subject of Olympia. The male figure on the
right was based on a combination of his two brothers, Eugène and
Gustave Manet. The other man is based on his brother-in-law, Dutch
sculptor Ferdinand Leenhoff (nl). Nancy Locke referred to this
scene as Manet’s family portrait.
Interactions of the figures
What many critics find shocking about this painting is the
interaction, or lack thereof, between the three main subjects in the
foreground and the woman bathing in the background. There are many
contrasting qualities to the painting that juxtapose and distance the
female nude from the other two male subjects. For example, the
feminine versus the masculine, the naked versus the clothed, and the
white color palette versus the dark color palette creates a clear
social difference between the men and the woman. Additionally, some
viewers are intrigued by the questions raised by the gaze of the nude
woman. It is indeterminable whether she is challenging or accepting
the viewer, looking past the viewer, engaging the viewer, or even
looking at the viewer at all. This encounter identifies the gaze as a
figure of the painting itself, as well as the figure object of the
As with the later Olympia (1863) and other works, Manet's composition
reveals his study of the old masters, as the disposition of the main
figures is derived from Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving The Judgment
Giorgione, The Tempest (c. 1508), Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, Italy
Antoine Watteau, La Partie Carrée, (c. 1713)
Scholars also cite two works as important precedents for Manet's
painting Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe:
The Pastoral Concert
Odilon Redon, for example, did not like it. There is a discussion of it, from this point of view, in Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Le Capitaine Pompilius, a contributor for Le Petit Journal, thought the characteristically "male" colors of the piece brought the countryside into the salon, but thought the painting was underdeveloped. Castagnary, appreciator of realist works, identified it as a nice sketch but said it lacked sincerity and lost the definition of the anatomy of the subjects. He also described Manet’s painting technique as "flabby". Arthur Stevens, contributor for Le Figaro, praised Manet as a talented colorist but felt that he neglected form and modeling in this piece. Thoré, Paul, and Louvet loved the energy of the colors but found the brush strokes to be uneven.
One interpretation of the work is that it depicts the rampant
prostitution present at that time in the Bois de Boulogne, a large
park on the western outskirts of Paris. This prostitution was common
knowledge in Paris, but was considered a taboo subject unsuitable for
a painting. Indeed, the
Bois de Boulogne
Louis Étienne characterized the painting as a puzzle, while
describing the nude female as "a Bréda of some sort, as nude as
possible, lolling boldly between two swells dressed to the teeth.
These two persons look like high school students on holiday,
committing a great sin to prove their manhood."
Arthur Stevens could not understand what the painting was saying.
Didier de Montchaux found the subject to be "fairly scabrous".
Thoré described the nude as an ugly and risqué subject matter, while
describing the male on the right as one "who doesn’t even think of
taking off his horrible padded hat outdoors…It’s the contrast
between such an antipathetic animal to the character of a pastoral
scene, and this undraped bather, that is shocking."
Philip Hamerton, an English painter and contributor at the Fine Arts
Quarterly, had an affinity for the characteristic photographic detail
General response Though the peculiarity of the combination of one female nude with three clothed figures sparked mixed responses, the lack of interaction of the figures in addition to the lack of engagement by the nude woman provoked laughter instead of offense. Laughter as a response represses the sexual tension and makes the scene rather unthreatening to the viewer in the end. Commentary of Émile Zola
The Luncheon on the Grass is the greatest work of Édouard Manet, one
in which he realizes the dream of all painters: to place figures of
natural grandeur in a landscape. We know the power with which he
vanquished this difficulty. There are some leaves, some tree trunks,
and, in the background, a river in which a chemise-wearing woman
bathes; in the foreground, two young men are seated across from a
second woman who has just exited the water and who dries her naked
skin in the open air. This nude woman has scandalized the public, who
see only her in the canvas. My God! What indecency: a woman without
the slightest covering between two clothed men! That has never been
seen. And this belief is a gross error, for in the
Zola presents a fictionalised version of the painting and the
controversy surrounding it in his novel
Claude Monet, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1865–1866, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
James Tissot, La Partie Carrée, 1870
In L'Oeuvre, Émile Zola's novel about a painter, a work by his main
character, Claude Lantier, exhibited in a fictional salon des
refusés, resembles Manet's painting.
Claude Monet's own version of Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe from
1865–1866, was inspired by Manet's masterpiece.
French painter James Tissot, painted La Partie Carrée, in 1870;
arguably a tamer version without the nudity of Le Déjeuner sur
Paul Cézanne, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1876-1877, Musée de l'Orangerie
Paul Gauguin, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, 1897. (detail).
Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907, MoMA
^ Catalogue des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, gravure, lithographie
et architecture : refusés par le Jury de 1863 et exposés, par
décision de S.M. l'Empereur au salon annexe, palais des
Champs-Elysées, le 15 mai 1863, Édouard Manet, Le Bain, no. 363,
Bibliothèque nationale de France
^ Boime, Albert (2007). Art in an Age of Civil Struggle. Los Angeles:
The University of Chicago Press. p. 676.
^ Musée d'Orsay, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass)
^ The Courtauld Gallery version
^ a b c d e f g Tucker, Paul Hayes (1998). Manet's Le Déjeuner Sur
L'Herbe. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. pp. 5–14.
^ a b c Armstrong, Carol (1998). "To Paint, To Point, To Pose" Manet's
Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
^ Ross King. The Judgement of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that
Gave the World Impressionism. New York: Waller & Company, 2006
^ Ross King, p. 41.
^ John Rewald,The History of Impressionism, The Museum of Modern Art,
4th revised edition 1973, (1st 1946, 2nd 1955, 3rd 1961), p. 85.
^ Laessøe, Rolf (2005). "Édouard Manet's "Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe"
as a Veiled Allegory of Painting". Artibus et Historiae. 26 (51):
^ a b Fried, Michael (1996). Manet's Modernism or, The Face of
Painting in the 1860s. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
^ Fernand Desnoyers, La peinture en 1863 : Salon des refusés, A.
Dutil (Paris) 1863,
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe at Smarthistory.
Media related to Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe by Manet at Wikimedia Commons Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), Musée d'Orsay, Full entry Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on this painting (pp. 131–134)
v t e
The Absinthe Drinker (1859)
The Spanish Singer
A Studio at Les Batignolles
WorldCat Identities VIAF: 183595228 LCCN: n98074874 GND: 4539087-3 SUDOC: 034256911 BNF: