Saturday, March 2, 2013

Manet: Protraying Life (Royal Academy of Arts) - could do with a bit of perspective

Manet Royal Academy of Arts
Manet - Portraying Life (Royal Academy of Arts) (photo by Allan Harris)

Manet: Portraying Life
Till 14 April 2013
Address: Main Galleries
Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House, Piccadilly
London W1J 0BD
Phone: 020 7300 8000
Nearest Tube station: Piccadilly Circus
This is a guest post by provided by TT. She juggles her time between London's restaurants and museums. 

While I am no art scholar I do love a good art exhibition and would make every effort to attend when a good one is in town.

Manet: Portraying Life at Royal Academy of Arts is branded as the first ever retrospective devoted to the portraiture of Edouard Maneteven though portraits make up around half of his artistic output. Manet painted his family, friends and the literary, political and artistic figures of his day, not only as straight portrayals but also at times regarding them as actors mirroring Parisian society of the time.

Reviews have described the exhibition as art worth queuing for and like any other major art exhibition in London you do have to plan ahead to get tickets. Online tickets are sold out in advance and your best chance of getting tickets on an earlier date is to queue at the box office. I went on a weekday afternoon and the queue snaked out into the courtyard. I was told by the staff that it would take about 10 minutes though I reckon I was in the queue for about 30 minutes.

The gallery was also packed. You would have a crowd of people in front of each painting and that does interfere with the enjoyment of the portraits. The description that accompanies each painting is really brief. While I appreciate that more information would be available on the audio guide I reckon that it might increase the tour time by another hour at least and for time scarce visitors it would have helped to have more narrative to better appreciate the art on display. It was also rather baffling to me that while there was a whole room dedicated to the life events of Manet with a map of Paris setting out his key addresses and an album of photos of his friends who often sat for him there was no in depth description about his relationship with his sitters. We knew that Leon Leonhoff who sat for a number of paintings is his wife's illegitimate son (whose paternity remains unknown) but there was no discussion about how Manet's relationship with Leon was. Surely the way a sitter is protrayed is influenced by the relationship between the sitter and the artist and I thought it would help for a layman like me to have some perspective of that.

I particularly like the 2 paintings of Berthe Morisot placed one painting apart. The contrast between Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets and Berthe Morisot in Mourning Clothes was stunning and showed off the skills of the artist in capturing the profoundly different moods of his subject.

Overall I had an enjoyable afternoon and if you have an afternoon to spare, I would urge you to spend it in the company of Manet's portraits. Cass Art is offering its customers an exclusive ticket offer for the exhibition. Receive £1 off your ticket for Friday and Saturday late entry from 8pm to 11pm, just pick up a postcard with your next purchase at any Cass Art store.

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