Édouard Manet

The Artist – Portrait of Marcellin Desboutin, 1875

  • Author:
    Édouard Manet
  • Bio:
    Paris, França, 1832 - 1884
  • Title:
    The Artist – Portrait of Marcellin Desboutin
  • Date:
  • Medium:
    Óleo sobre tela
  • Dimensions:
    195,5 x 131,5 x 3,5 cm
  • Credit line:
    Compra, 1958
  • Object type:
  • Inventory number:
  • Photography credits:
    João Musa


Desboutin’s attractive personality has been widely analyzed and documented, especially in studies and essays by Silvestre (1876), Janin (1922), and Bailly-Herzberg (1972). The son of an aristocratic family, a writer, playwright, and engraver, Marcellin Desboutin (1823-1902), like Manet, had his start in painting in the studios of Thomas Couture. He too had his education topped up with a grand tour through Italy, where he took up residence in 1854 in a Florentine villa and from whence he only returned in 1872, apparently due to a sudden decline in his financial resources after the Franco-Prussian war. From Florence, he brought a drama in verse, Maurice de Saxe, staged in the Comédie Française in 1870. This success opened the way for two other plays, in the same theater, Le Cardinal Duboisand Madame Roland. But it was more as a painter and engraver that Desboutin became famous. In spite of having been away from Paris for eighteen years, the artist had no trouble in joining the circles of the Café Guerbois. Apparently the transfer of Manet and his friends to the Café Nouvelle Athène was due to Desboutin’s preference, and it was in this café that Desboutin posed in 1876 for Degas, together with actress Ellen Andrée for the famous painting L’absinthe, today in the Musée d’Orsay (Camesasca 1987, p. 72).The Artist – Portrait of Marcellin Desboutinwas rejected at the 1875 Salon, together with another Manet’s work, today in the Barnes Foundation, not just because of Meissonier, who had been harshly criticized by Manet and was now among the fifteen members of the jury, but as the result of an almost unanimous condemnation, contested only by the votes of Jean-Jacques Henner and Léon Bonnat. Manet as usual decided to exhibit his rejected works in his own studio in the rue Saint Pétersbourg, not without enjoying a considerable success. The invitation to the vernissage bore the following phrase: “Faire vrai et laisser dire.” At this time his Portrait of Desboutinearned very favorable reviews from critics, among them Castagnary and Silvestre, who remarked: “M. Manet a, de l’avis de tout le monde, peint des morceaux d’une incontestable maestria, et l’un de ses deux tableaux, le Portrait, en contient un, le grand lévrier qui boit, que Velázquez n’eût pas renié.” Castagnary, centered his attack on Bouguereau, who then dominated the Salon: “Il (Manet) occupe dans l’art contemporain une place autrement grande que M. Bouguereau, par exemple, que je vois parmi les membres du jury. (...) Son portrait de cette année, ce protrait de M. Desboutin, que vous lui avez refusé, eût été une des puissantes toiles du Salon. Mais le succès du Bon Bock (1873, Philadelphia Museum of Art) vous avait alarmés.” There is no agreement on the meaning of the small bag the character is holding. Manet portrays Desboutin at a time when he was interested in the the pointe sèchetechnique, which had fallen into disuse since Rembrandt. Desboutin began working in portraiture and achieved some degree of fame. Probably, as suggested by Darragon (1985, p. 85), Moffet (1983, p. 372), and Camesasca (1986, p. 76), Desboutin’s mix of poverty and nobility embodied Balzac’s ideas in Chef-d’oevre inconnuand may be thus approximated to the Tragic Actor in the Washington National Gallery and to the Philosopher in the Art Institute of Chicago. The proposed relationship appears to be very pertinent and it is possible to add that, to a certain extent, the three portraits of the years 1865-1875 are reminiscent of the tradition of 17th-century neo-Stoic iconography, in which the figure of the clochardreplaces the austere sage of the 16th century in a way that is charged with moral and philosophical connotations. Desboutin was featured in other portraits executed by his Café companions and in a watercolor with the initials E. M. preserved in the Fogg Art Museum of Cambridge (Mass.), and that is considered by Rouart and Wildenstein to be preparatory for the Masp canvas, in spite of the differences between them (1970, II, p. 170, n. 474).

— Unknown authorship, 1998

Source: Luiz Marques (org.), Catalogue of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, São Paulo: MASP, 1998. (new edition, 2008).

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