People gathered in a garden by Edouard Manet

Music in the Tuileries by Édouard Manet: Meaning and Analysis

Through his work, Édouard Manet created a bridge between the academic standards of idealized beauty and modernism. During the 19th century, painting a fleeting glimpse of ordinary life without any deeper symbolism was quite unusual. However, impressionists saw art as a medium of catharsis, an expression of their subjective impressions of a passing moment. The impressionists brought a revolution not only in the style of art but also in its subject matter.

“Music in the Tuileries” is one such painting by Manet that took the impressionist movement to its next phase of development and promotion.

Where is it now?

Manet’s 1862 oil on canvas painting “Music in the Tuileries” is presently shared by two art galleries – The Hugh lane gallery in Dublin and National Gallery in London.  

In 1903 the painting was officially owned by Sir Hugh Lane. However, after his death, the painting was donated to “The Hugh Lane” in accordance with the codicil to his will. 

Later the codicil was legally revoked by the National Gallery and it was found that it was invalid. As a result, the two art museums decided to share the painting. 

The Setting

Manet shares a glimpse of his life on a 118 cm wide and 76 cm high canvas titled “Music in the Tuileries”. As the name suggests, the scene is set in the Tuileries garden of Paris. The garden is located in front of the Louvre Museum. The Tuileries surrounded the entrance to the Royal Palace and was later transformed into a park that could be used by the public. 

We see a panoramic view of the garden, that allows us to share physical space with the subjects. We see lots of people sitting underneath a canopy of emerald green trees with a sliver of the sky peeking through. 

People would often visit the gardens to witness weekly musical concerts. These musical events used to take place twice a week at the Tuileries. Even though no musician is present in the scene it is clear from the clothes and the density of the crowd that they are at the garden for an event and it couldn’t be a coincidence.

The Subjects

The painting has countless subjects, however, few are more important than others. People of all ages and genders have gathered in the garden. They seem to be following a formal dress code that is consistent with the upper-class Parisian fashion of the time.

When you look closely at the people in the painting, you’d notice some figures are more clear while the background is grossly out of focus. They have been made clearer so that they can be recognized by the audience. These people hold personal meaning to the artist and hence to his art. 

Music in the Tuileries by Eduard Manet subjects
Subjects: Music in the Tuileries by Edouard Manet. Public Domain

On the far left, we see a very clear face, and it is immediately recognizable as Manet himself. Standing closely beside him is his friend Albert de Balleroy. Balleroy was a painter and shared an art studio with Manet. Seated to the left of Manet’s self-portrait is the novelist and critic Champfleury.

Slightly on the right to the center, we see the sharp figure of a man engaged in a conversation with a woman sitting in front of him on a chair. This man is Eugene Manet, the artist’s brother. Eugene later marries Berthe Morisot who was a famous impressionist painter. She was the one who introduced Manet to the world of impressionism.

Another slightly discernable figure is that of the French composer Jacques Offenbach. He is seated toward the right of the frame wearing glasses. Along the center on the bottom of the frame, we see two beautiful girls playing with buckets, dressed in fluffy white frocks.  We also see a black French pooch on the chair toward the left in front of the ladies with a blue bow.  

At the back of the painting, we see a portrait of Manet’s close friend Charles Baudelaire, an art critic and writer. Both Baudelaire and Manet were of the opinion that modern day-to-day life is important enough to be discussed in art. 

Influence of Valazquez

Manet came from a wealthy family. His father was in a high position in the ministry of justice. His mother was a socialite who had links to the royal family of Sweden. Thus, it was common for the artist to witness up-class events where the socialites would gather for a sophisticated musical concert. 

Manet’s loose brushwork evoked controversy among the art collectors and dealers of the time who were used to appreciating idealized realism. There was a clear lack of precision and an absence of any special symbolism in most of Manet’s work. While the critics found his work not fit to be called art, the younger artists were in support of his impressionistic style.  

Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez. Public Domain

At a glance, you would be able to notice that several eyes are turned toward the viewer as if waiting for us to introduce ourselves. This unique touch of making the scene personal to the viewer is something Manet borrowed from Velazquez’s Las Meninas”. 

Another feature that Manet borrows from Valazquez’s work is the addition of his self-portrait in the frame. The self-portrait is not an important part of the painting but rather an onlooker, serving as a connection between the artist and his art. 

Analysis: Colors and composition

Manet made several rough live sketches of the musical concerts in Tuileries, however he completed the painting in his art studio. 

People gathered in a garden by Edouard Manet
Music in the Tuileries by Édouard Manet. Public Domain

Composition

The composition shows a balanced mix of men and women that reflect the values and fashion of the 19th century. We see most women sitting down and passive while the men are standing, with pipes in their mouths and canes in their hands. One may also see vacant chairs in the front while some people sit at the back to give us a sense of depth in the picture. 

Even though there is no apparent sign of music, the moment we look at the painting we can immediately hear some chatter or noise, which well, maybe the music that the painter is hinting toward. There is not only visual chatter and chaos but an imagined auditory chatter as well.

Colors

The colors and composition go well with one another. The gold wrought iron chairs complement the canes that the men are holding. This gold color also complements the yellow hats of the women. 

Almost all men in the scene are standing, dressed in black top hats and black coats. The color application throughout the painting is blunt, wide, and in a block pattern. The vertical figures of the gentlemen go well with the vertical, dark-colored trunks of the trees.  

Looking at the painting from a distance, one would notice several specks of bright colors like blue, red, and white placed horizontally across the frame. This careful placement of colors creates threads across the scene giving it a rhythm in the middle of all the chaos.  The clothing of the women and children adds to the variety of the otherwise green and subdued background.

Let’s discuss some of the specific color shades used in the painting. The striking emerald green tree tops have been toned down with increasing depth. The green is mixed with yellow ochre and black to provide a smooth color gradient. 

The clothes of the subject have been painted with virgin pigments to make them pop. The clothes of the children and men are painted in pure whites. Other pigments in the women’s costumes are cobalt blue, orange, and vermilion. 

Conclusion 

Music in the Tuileries was first exhibited at the Galerie Martinet in 1863. Immediately the painting was criticized for its lack of precision and meaning. Even Baudelaire, a staunch supporter of impressionism was unimpressed by this work. 

Today, however, Music in the Tuileries is recognized as a turning point not only in Manet’s career but also in the development of the impressionistic movement.  

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