Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass)

by Pericles Lewis

Edouard Manet’s painting “Luncheon on the Grass” (“Déjeuner sur l’Herbe,” 1863) was one of a number of impressionist works that broke away from the classical view that art should obey established conventions and seek to achieve timelessness. The painting was rejected by the salon that displayed painting approved by the official French academy. The rejection was occasioned not so much by the female nudes in Manet’s painting, a classical subject, as by their presence in a modern setting, accompanied by clothed, bourgeois men. The incongruity suggested that the women were not goddesses but models, or possibly prostitutes. Manet displayed the painting instead at the Salon des Refusés, an alternative salon established by those who had been refused entry to the official one. Like his friend Courbet, Manet influenced modern painting not only by his use of realistic subject matter but also by his challenge to the three-dimensional perspectivalism established in Renaissance painting. Manet painted figures with a flatness derived partly from Japanese art and resembling (as Courbet commented) the flatness of the king or queen on a playing card. The modernist reinvention of pictorial space had begun.[1]

  1. ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), pp. 49-50.