I adore Édouard Manet’s flower paintings. They are rarely talked about because his other works (Olympia, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, The Bar at the Folies-Bergère) are so sensational and progressive – credited with being the first ‘modern’ paintings.
His large-scale masterpieces have eclipsed the quiet beauty of his still life paintings. But these little gems deserve to be celebrated too.
This work, ‘Vase of Lilacs and Roses’ was painted in 1883. Manet’s brushwork is so confident here. He’s described the blooms, the glass and the water with very few marks. Up close, the painting almost looks abstract. When viewed from afar, everything comes together perfectly – he’s produced a vision of energy and life.
But Manet was barely alive. In fact, he was on the brink of death. He was in terrible pain from his syphilis and housebound. Yet he continued to paint.
Of course, when we know this, we can view this work as a sort of memento mori. A symbol of transience. Enjoy the flower’s beauty now because it won’t last – nothing does.
In April 1883, Manet’s leg had to be amputated because of gangrene. 11 days later he was dead. This was his penultimate work.
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