Edouard Manet
(Paris, 1832-1883, Paris)
A Garden Nook at Bellevue, 1880
Oil on canvas, 91 x 70 cm
Signed lower right: Manet
Rouart/Wildenstein 347
It can be considered quite an achievement on Emil Bührle's part that very different aspects of the rich and varied oeuvre of Edouard Manet are represented in his collection. Manet's work combines traditional figurative painting in the studio with new, impressionist leanings, and as early as 1900 he was thought by many to be one of the most important artists of his time. His paintings were purchased by museums throughout Europe and the United States at a correspondingly early date, so fewer and fewer significant works remained on the open market. One of the latter is this scene in the garden of a villa near Paris, where Manet used to spend the summer months. Produced three years before the artist's death, it shows the mastery with which he had made the technique of plein air painting his own – not least through intensive study of the new ground broken by his younger friend, Claude Monet. In the purest Impressionist manner, the images of the house, the foliage and the figure are merged into a shimmering juxtaposition of sketchy brushstrokes, in which everything is transmuted into pure colour. Dark shadows are represented only by pure blue hues – that is, if they have not been made superfluous altogether by some artistic device. For instance, the cornice at the top of the villa's wall, should be overshadowed by the projecting eaves, yet it glows with what cannot be direct sunlight from above, but rather light reflected from below – perhaps from a pool of water behind the garden wall. Standing before this radiant painting with its joyous colours, it is hard not to sympathise with the feelings of the collector Eduard Arnhold, who bought the painting in 1904. Originally, he had meant to donate it to the National Gallery in Berlin, but soon he found it so hard to part with the masterpiece that he had to renege on his promise.