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Title: Madame Manet at the piano.
Author : MANET Edouard (1832 - 1883)
Creation date : 1868
Dimensions: Height 38 - Width 46.5
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas
Storage place: Orsay Museum website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web
Picture reference: 93DE6042 / RF 1994
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski
Publication date: March 2016
The piano, king of instruments in the 19th century
This painting illustrates a theme often treated by painters. There was no shortage of houses, however, where, as with the Manets, the piano did not distress families and neighbors.
A music lover, in fact, like Degas and so many other artists of his time, Manet had known Suzanne Leenhof, whom he married in 1863, when in 1849 she gave piano lessons to her younger brothers. When he painted this picture (1867-1868), she went regularly with a friend to alleviate the last moments of Baudelaire, aphasic and half paralyzed, by playing Wagner on him. Excellent interpreter - of Schumann, in particular, then little known in France -, it was to her that in 1873 Emmanuel Chabrier, one of the couple's best friends, dedicated his Impromptu in C major, his first major work for the piano. In her company, Suzanne Manet had more than once to play passionate or fanciful four-hands to the applause of Berthe Morisot, her husband's sister-in-law, also a painter and a great friend of the composer.
The piano was not only the instrument of solitary delight as it seems to be in this painting: Madame Manet was playing for an audience of friends; and there are many trade fairs where both amateurs and professionals performed. It is therefore no coincidence that, in the second half of the 19th century, chamber music experienced a golden age, and if from César Franck to Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré, French composers often gave it the best of their inspiration. At the end of the century, the world of The Search for Lost Time resounds with musical evenings not just attended by snobs. Like Proust himself, the narrator learned the piano. And, one evening, he deceives his expectation of the beloved woman with Vinteuil's sonata followed by a transcription of Tristan and Isolde of Wagner, the reflections they inspire him, show how practice, even as an amateur, allows a richer and more detailed knowledge of music than passive listening to a concert or a recording.
Manet Exhibition catalog, Grand Palais, Paris, RMN, 1983.
To cite this article
Georges LIÉBERT, "Madame Manet at the piano"