Manet’s Pavilion and the 1867 Exposition Universelle

Manet, "A View of the 1867 Exposition Universelle," 1867. Oil on canvas, Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo, Norway

This afternoon, when my student gave a presentation on Manet, she mentioned that she found information about a pavilion that Manet set up during the 1867 Exposition Universelle (“World Fair”), near the grounds of the exhibition itself. At first, I worried that this student was referring to the “Pavilion of Realism” set up by the artist Courbet over a decade before. When Courbet’s monumental canvas, The Painter’s Studio 1854-1855) was rejected from the 1855 Exposition Universelle, Courbet set up his own pavilion – a circus-like tent – within sight of the grounds of the official site. There, Courbet displayed more than forty of his own works, including The Painter’s Studio. He also used his own exhibition as a means to propagate his own ideas: the exhibition catalog included Courbet’s famous “Realist Manifesto,” where Courbet proclaimed that he wanted to create “living art” by depicting modern life.

After my student’s presentation, I told my class about how the “Pavilion of Realism” is an example of how avant-garde artists sometimes seek alternate venues for displaying their art. Then I said that it wouldn’t be surprising if Manet had done a similar thing in Courbet’s wake, and I would look forward to checking into this point further.

Manet did host his own pavilion in 1867, between the 22nd and the 24th of May, since he was not invited to participate in the official show which was overseen by an exhibition committee. Manet’s pavilion was located near the grounds of the exhibition, near the Champs de Mars in L’Avenue d’Alma, just across the street from one of the entrances to the main grounds of the fair. At this same time, Manet also painted a picture (albeit one that was abandoned in its early stages) to commemorate the ongoing exhibition (see image above and read more information HERE).

Manet’s pavilion included more than fifty works of art, including his by-then-notorious painting Le Dejuner sur l’Herbe (1863), which previously had been displayed in the Salon des Refusés in 1863. Other works of art included Young Lady in 1866 (Woman with a Parrot) and A Matador (1867, see below). Around twenty other paintings in this show revolved around Spanish themes, which evidences Manet’s penchant for the style and culture of artists like Velasquez (Manet had studied Velasquez when visiting the Museo del Prado in Madrid).

Manet, "A Matador," 1867. Oil on canvas; 67 3/8 x 44 1/2 in. (171.1 x 113 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art

Manet’s pavilion did not attract a lot of attention; it was ignored by both the press and the general public.1 To accompany the exhibition, Manet also “published a catalog with a short, unsigned preface, one of the few statements about his art that can be attributed to his own ideas (it has been presumed that he received help from his literary friends). In it the importance of exhibiting is stressed, and his work is characterized as ‘sincere’, one of the watchwords of the Realist movement.”2 (Note: I believe that ‘sincere’ is translated as ‘honest’ in the translation that is linked above).

The preface comes across as a little whiny too me – Manet seems to wallow in misery a little too much, oft complaining about his consistent rejection from the juries of the Salon. I do respect his assertion that it is important for artists to exhibit their work, but he seems to emphasize this point in too much of a defensive way. I also imagine that visitors to the pavillion would feel a little put-off by his statement that the “public has been supposedly turned into an enemy.” I wouldn’t want to enter a show, having just been accused as being an enemy of the artist!

I’m surprised that I didn’t hear about Manet’s exhibition before today. Why is Courbet’s “Pavilion of Realism” better known among art historians than Manet’s 1867 pavilion? On one hand, both exhibitions received poor attendance and not very much critical attention at the time they were mounted.3 My guess is that Courbet’s pavilion draws more attention from a historical perspective after-the-fact because 1) his own personally-funded retrospective exhibition was the first of its kind and 2) the “Realist Manifesto” is perceived as more groundbreaking and substantial than the ideas that Manet presented. Another reason is that it may be more appealing for art historians to focus on discussing the display of Manet’s work at the Salon des Refusés of 1863, simply because that story involves more dramatic content and ridicule.

I feel like general art history has abandoned a discussion of Manet’s pavilion somewhat, perhaps similarly to how Manet quickly abandoned his own painting of the 1867 Exposition Universelle (see image at top of post). Does anyone else have ideas as to why Manet’s pavilion isn’t frequently cited or mentioned in basic art history texts? Is there anything else that you know or appreciate about either Courbet’s exhibition or Manet’s exhibition?

1 Beatrice Farwell. “Manet, Edouard.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 11, 2014, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T053749.

2 Ibid.

3 For a discussion of Courbet’s Pavilion and its reception, see Stephen Eisenmann, “The Rhetoric of Realism: Courbet and the Origins of the Avant-Garde“, in Ninteenth-Century Art: A Critical History (London: Thames and Hudson, 2007), p. 221. Text available online HERE.

  • Hels says:

    I didn’t even know about Courbet’s Pavilion of Realism! But perhaps it is not unknown. Lots of French artists found their work rejected by Academy juries or juries from Exposition Universelles, and they responded in different ways.

    But how clever of Courbet to set up his own tent, to display his own works near the World Fair grounds. And how clever to be ideological about new ideas in art – visitors might well have read his catalogue and manifesto.

    The only problem was that World Fairs got endless truckloads of advertising. Individual protest tent pavilions would have got none.

  • heidenkind says:

    I did know about Manet’s pavilion at the 1867 exposition. The impression I got from my research was that he was kind of riding Courbet’s coattails there and wangsty about it

    The thing about Manet is that he’s not unconventional enough to tell the Salon and PTBs to jump off a cliff, and he’s not good enough (I say it with love) to be accepted by said powers, so he’s kind of always bitter about being shut out of the official exhibitions and salons. He believes in the Salon and wants to be a part of it, but he’s destined to be the front runner of the avant-garde.

  • Patsy Munro says:

    Thank you for this most interesting post. I knew about Courbet’s pavilion but not Manet’s. I wondered why he didn’t complete ‘A View of the 1867 Exhibition Universelle’. Maybe it was the fact that it was so contrived, to impress the establishment that disillusioned him.
    An earlier work ‘La Peche’ (1862-3) is also contrived, a wedding picture where Manet in 17thC costume portrays his unorthodox domestic arrangements with his future wife. Like ‘Universelle’ it also features his son Leon and seems to use a similar palette (I haven’t seen the picture, you probably have). Maybe he just thought it was too like something he’d done before and abandoned it…we shall never know.

  • Zsofia Albrecht says:

    Many thanks for this interesting post! I was not aware of Manet’s pavilion just about Courbet’s.You might be interested this: Courbet’s works and his pavilion were so inspiring that after seeing them, a young Hungarian painter – who was at the time studying in Dusseldorf – made a later golden medal winning (on Paris Salon) painting. And soon he became a famous artist in Europe and in the States. Unfortunately his name – Mihaly Munkacsy – is mostly known nowadays in Hungary. However one of his painting hangs on the wall of the New York Public Library. Again thank you for your informative writing!

  • Becky Frehse says:

    I love it when students bring new insights based on their research to class. Looks like you can share a wonderful validation with your Manet student too!

  • Hi everyone! Thank you for your comments! It’s interesting to see that several of you, like me, were not familiar with this pavilion. Heidenkind, I’m not surprised that you knew about Manet’s pavilion, since you are so interested in Manet. ;)

    Zsofia, I had never heard of Mihaly Munkacsy before reading your comment, although I have been to the New York Public LIbrary several times! I will look for his painting the next time I go there. Thanks for sharing that information about him and his experience visiting Courbet’s Pavillion of Realism. What a neat story!

  • Anne P says:

    Manet’s pavilion is discussed in Chapters 20 and 21 of Ross King’s book, The Judgement of Paris (which I’m currently reading). Manet invested time, effort and a great deal of his mother’s money in the venture but, as you said, most of the critics ignored his show and the public stayed away. All the paintings on show remained unsold. Courbet, having also been excluded, was at the same time staging his second one man show to coincide with the Exposition, also with little success. Both Courbet and Manet’s efforts were completely eclipsed by the critical and commercial triumph of Ernest Meissonier, the most famous artist of the day, at the Exposition proper.

    From what I remember of last year’s Manet exhibition in London, quite a number of his paintings were never finished and remained in his studio until his death, possibly because there were so few buyers interested in his lifetime.

  • Hi Anne! Thanks for your comment and the reference to Ross King’s book. I have been meaning to look into that book, and now I have added reason to read it!

    I didn’t realize that Courbet mounted a second show during this same year as Manet’s pavilion. After reading your comment, I looked online and found a little information about that show here:
    http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/courbet-dossier/biography.html

    According to this site, Courbet had nine paintings accepted by the official exhibition in 1867, but he still chose to exhibit 140 other works in a building constructed on the Place de l’Alma. In terms of size, then, Courbet’s second exhibition was much larger than Manet’s show, since Manet’s pavilion showed fifty works of art.

  • Zsofia Albrecht says:

    Dear Monica,

    Many thanks for your nice reply:) I would like to mention one more Hungarian artist who was a forerunner at his time – especially in Hungary and Austria. He painted exactly ten years after Manet’s famous Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe a piece called ‘Picnic in May’ without knowing Manet or the French impressionists’ intensions about plein air painting but thinking in the very same way like they did. If you are interested in you can check his art here (webpage of the Hungarian National Gallery):
    http://www.mng.hu/en/search/oldal:2/591
    Thank you for this platform for sharing art/history!
    All the best,
    Zsofia from Hungary

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.