Edouard Manet
(Paris, 1832-1883, Paris)
The Swallows, 1873
Oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm
Signed lower right: Manet
Rouart/Wildenstein 190
Manet could easily manage to go for the summer of 1873, with his family, to the seaside, to Berck-sur-Mer, after Durand-Ruel had purchased twenty-nine pictures from him and he had scored a great success just that May in the Salon with the "Bon Bock". He remained in Berck until September, and in this period did eleven paintings. The painting came easily to him; he recorded the life of boatmen, seascapes and beach scenes, as Boudin had been the first to do so. All these pictures possess an absolute sureness of line.
The greatest and most important painting in this series of works is "The Swallows". Here human figure and landscape are uniquely fused. The artist’s mother in black, and Madame Manet in white have taken their ease on a field behind the dunes, with their billowing skirts and bonnets tied on with veils. The sun has just been shining, but now the sky is overcast; the artist’s wife has lowered the still opened parasol to her lap, and lowflying swallows herald the change in weather. All this has nothing anecdotal about it, but is merely the expression of the mood of the landscape, which is accentuated on the far horizon in the shape of windmills, the small church and rooftops of the village. Manet found an understanding buyer for the painting in Paris immediately after his return, which did not prevent the Salon of 1874 from rejecting it. The jury could not accustom itself as yet to the sketchy quality of this kind of painting. Stéphane Mallarmé, still wholly unknown as a poet, protested against the rejection of "The Swallows", in 1874, as follows: "What is an 'unfinished' work, when all its parts harmonize and it has a charm one additional spot of paint could mar?"