When Manet’s picture The Railway (1873) was first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1874, critics were hostile. The painting depicts a young woman seated in front of iron railings overlooking the sidings at the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. She raises her head from the book she’s been reading to look up at the viewer with an expression of mild indifference, while a little girl next to her turns her back on us to observe the clouds of steam rising from a passing train. Critics were confused: was this a subject picture or a double portrait?
The Royal Academy’s spring blockbuster exhibition for 2013 focuses on the portraits of Edouard Manet. It explores the artist’s modern approach by suggesting that his narrative genre scenes are in fact portraits, which place his sitters in natural, realistic situations, turning his subjects into “actors” in scenes of modern life, and authenticating his scenes of contemporary life by filling them with real people. Read my full review here