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Manet and the gift shop


I ran through Manet and the Sea at the Philadelphia Museum and I’ll tell you the guy could paint. Manet’s works are interspersed with those of precursors like Courbet and the Dutch maritime painters. They’re also intertwined with works by contemporaries like Renoir, Monet and Morisot. Now, I’ll reiterate that I went through the exhibit quickly, but what I saw was one standard-issue pretty picture after another and then ZING! a Manet would come along and I’d stop in my tracks. (image is “On the Beach-Suzanne and Eugene Manet at Berck,” 1973)

Even without the wall labels, I could always pick out the Manets. His documentary-esque paintings — which have a modern, photo-influenced affect — turn the other paintings into dishrags (thanks, Alex Katz, for that wonderful dishrag metaphor, uttered at last April’s Locks Foundation talk with Robert Storr.)


There’s also that Manet palette, with its rich blacks and greys and — surprise — pthalo-green seas (you won’t see green seas in anybody else’s paintings here).

His focus on humans, and on a kind of fashionable humanity (which actually reminds me of what Elizabeth Peyton is doing) also separates him from the rest.

I wanted to take some pictures of the pthalo green seas, but I couldn’t take pictures in the show. I snapped this one instead. It’s the maritime display in the Manet gift shop (image above right). I won’t harp on merchandising, but the display immediately positioned this show for me as a kind of loss leader for the novelty tie-ins.