Edouard Manet Doffs His Cap To Spanish Culture


They refused his 1866 submissions to the annual Salon, the official Paris exhibition of academic art. So Edouard Manet decided to stage a one-man exhibition in 1867. It included "Le Matador Saluant" (Matador Saluting), giving this arresting, glitteringly executed work its first exposure.

Characteristic of Manet in several ways, it above all epitomizes his lifelong fascination for Spain, for its art, and also Spain's theatrical types - dancers and musicians and bull-fighters. Whether he depicted a real matador or a dancer dressed up as one is not clear. But this is an isolated performer, and in effect the painting lifts the theatrical print (both a European and a Japanese genre) to the status of serious art.

It also displays admiration for a particular painting by Diego Velsquez, "Portrait of Pablillos de Vallodolid," which Manet had seen in 1865 on his single visit to Spain: an isolated, dramatic figure of a man with a cast shadow but otherwise standing out against an empty background.

Tellingly, this Velsquez was then listed in the Prado Museum's catalog as "Portrait of a Famous Actor from the time of Philip IV." Manet described it as "perhaps the most astonishing painting ever made." The apparent spontaneity and simplicity that Manet had already (laboriously) made the mark of his painting must have seemed magnificently confirmed (and outclassed) in this and other Velsquez works he saw on his short trip over the Pyrenees. It served to re-awaken his preoccupation with Spain. The "Matador" is just one splendid outcome.

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