Manet's Modernism: Or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s
Manet's Modernism, or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s is the culminating work in a trilogy of books by Michael Fried exploring the roots and genesis of pictorial modernism. Building on his earlier studies of the central antitheatrical tradition within Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment French painting, Fried argues that previous accounts of Edouard Manet as the first modernist painter are based on a simplistic reading of the situation Manet inherited and, partly as a result, fail to grasp the specificity, complexity, and ambition - also the deeply problematic nature - of his epochal paintings of the 1860s. By placing the painter squarely within his generation (along with Henri Fantin-Latour, Alphonse Legros, and James McNeill Whistler, all of whom are treated at length) as well as in the context of the art-critical discourse of his time, Fried transforms our sense of Manet's artistic project. Instead of the usual emphasis on flatness and visuality, Fried focuses on aspects of Manet's work that have either been minimized or ignored: his repeated allusions to Old Master sources, his desire for "universality" as regards both national schools and individual genres, his efforts to annul the absorptive basis of the modern French tradition, his invention of a sort of portrait-tableau, above all his pursuit of facingness and strikingness as means of reconstructing the relationship between painting and beholder. The result is an entirely new understanding not only of the art of Manet and his generation but also of the way in which the Impressionist simplification of Manet's achievement had determined subsequent accounts of pictorial modernism down to the present. Like Fried's previousbooks, Manet's Modernism is a milestone in the historiography of modern art.
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