Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), 1863
Manet is famous for making explicit references to illustrious paintings of the past within his own works, such as Pastoral Concert by Titian (c. 1508). In such works of the past, the women conveyed serve as objects of visual delight; the nude female figures are smooth, curvaceous and idealized, while the clothed male figures revel in the glory of the experience.
However, Édouard Manet confronts the viewer by placing the female nude’s gaze directly in the center of the male activity, focusing straight out upon the voyeur. The voyeuristic culture of Manet’s time was highly popular in visual tradition; idealized and sexualized nudes were consistently painted for the male viewer (or flâneur) to gaze upon and appreciate. This act of a bourgeois male gazing upon a female nude model makes the woman a disposable or replaceable object, rather than an interesting or unique subject. Manet’s female nude not only outs the voyeur by directly acknowledging his gaze, but also calls attention to herself as a painted, artistic body.
It has been suggested that this female model was mostly likely a prostitute, as most artist’s models were at the time. Manet’s painterly expression reminds the viewer that the people and scenery depicted is merely a painted image; the brushstrokes are visible and poignant and the dimensions are suggested, rather than explicitly defined. The woman is the key component to this concept, since she is the focus and the ‘outlier’ within a seemingly classical/traditional scene.
This self-referentiality and self-criticism within visual culture is known as “Greenbergian modernism,” which is a popular philosophy within art criticism that contributes to the theories behind Modernism’s precise beginnings, and also the art that falls within such categories. Self-criticism and a form of acknowledging the artist and the ‘self’ in a painting separates those works that are based upon a simple narrative, because the inclusion of the “self” and art within the art provokes intellectual and philosophical inquiries, discussions and multiple dimensions for artistic culture itself.