Pseudo-Spanish from Manet

Greetings everyone! This is “Music Monday” for May 10th πŸ™‚

No sane person would ever describe Edouard Manet as a “bohemian”. He was far from it. Unlike his penniless, struggling, rebellious and free-thinking peers, Manet was bourgeois through and through. Refined, educated, well-mannered, walking, breathing proof of his upper middle class Parisian pedigree. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. The guy just didn’t have any “street cred” as they say.

Let me just state that I have always been lukewarm about Manet. Not on issues regarding his skill and technique as an artist, mind you. I am no one to criticize such things! The man was a great painter. We know this. But I feel that his bourgeois mentality infused his art in such a way that much of it often appears exceedingly staged, overly orchestrated to a point where the fakery is almost comical.

Let’s take a look at one of Manet’s most famous paintings, one I see at the Met all the time. It’sΒ The Spanish Singer from 1860, created when Manet was in his “Spanish themes” phase. Again, we’re not talking about color or brushstrokes or anything like that. Instead, we’ll examine the flagrant bullshittery of this work. First of all, it is a studio piece, meaning that it’s posed and laden with props. Secondly, the model was likely not Spanish, not a singer, and not a guitar player. It’s just some French guy play-acting as a Spanish musician:

That is a right-handed guitar turned around to be left-handed, a detail Manet apparently didn’t think worthy of his attention. Those clothes are not authentic to any particular Spanish region or style. They are just pieces put together to resemble “Spanishness” or something close to it, just enough to fool his clueless Paris Salon audience. And what’s up with those shoes?? They look like Nikes πŸ˜† The model’s facial expression suggests nothing musical at all. He simply has his mouth open, and we’re supposed to interpret that as singing, when really it Β just looks like he’s burping. And lastly, those stupid fucking onions in the bottom right corner. Ugh! Again, that has “studio props” written all over it. What was Manet thinking? “Those Spanish people eat a lot of spicy food so let me throw a couple of onions in there to make it more ‘real’.” Maybe he should have thrown in a tamale for good measure.

So while the painting may be technically outstanding, it’s bogus in every other way. Now for any other artist that would be fine. But this is the exalted Manet. We expect great things from him, and with this painting he offers merely an art studio version of a “Spanish singer” – a generic imitation, completely devoid of authenticity, character, passion, or really any warmth on Manet’s part.

For a taste of real Spanish musicality and spirit, here is the great flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya performing Tanguillo; Zambrilla. I wonder if he had any onions lying around when he recorded this track πŸ˜†

18 thoughts on “Pseudo-Spanish from Manet

  1. Stephen says:

    thanks for the taste of spain – This is so funny! What a fake! Claudia the iconoclast – Neat!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Very amused at the prospect of the painting being retitled ‘The Spanish Burper’!

  3. Dave says:

    ” flagrant bullshittery” PERFECT! I may have to swipe that phrase. Thinking it might come in handy when talking about post-modernism…


    • artmodel says:


      Swipe away my friend! I can’t think of a better topic to apply it toward than post-modernism πŸ˜† I’ll let you know if I come up with any others.

      Did you get my email?


  4. Gavin says:

    I’m not too sure. To us Brits, the onions say “French”, so it wouldn’t work as a prop. Also he doesn’t have a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth, so I’m not convinced the model is French. Sorry;)

    • artmodel says:


      If onions imply French, then that makes the painting even more phony! I guess between the model and the props Manet couldn’t come up with anything genuinely and truly Spanish.

      Thanks for your comments!


      • Gavin says:

        It does maybe show a lack of effort. The wine bottle next to the onions is a bit French too;)

        One thing that the picture reminds me of is the faces in Goya’s Third of May. I wonder if Manet decided to borrow some ‘Spanish features’ from Goya? Not that the British of the time were that much more aware of our neighbours, it wasn’t that much further back that we executed a monkey as a French spy. He was given a fair trial first though;)

  5. Brian says:

    “Bullshittery”….that one put a smile on!

  6. Fred says:

    It’s Christophe!

    I have never understood why people thought Manet was so great. All his compositions are stiff and if he tries to put multiple figures together it always looks like a bad Photoshop job. Look at “Dejeuner sur l’herbe” – the trees and grass look like a sloppily painted stage set. Though the setting is outdoors the lighting is clearly studio light. The poses are awkward and the main female figure’s head is patched on to a different body and it doesn’t quite work.

    But the upside down right-handed guitar is brilliant – clearly he was anticipating Jimi Hendrix.

    • artmodel says:

      Fred, oh my god, that does look like Christophe!!!! Too funny! πŸ˜†

      I had no idea that you harbored such feelings about Manet. I basically agree with you. I’m going to look again at “Dejeuner sur l’herbe” and examine those points you made.

      As far as the Hendrix guitar situation, I can’t even imagine what the proper, bourgeois conformist Manet would make of Jimi the gypsy. There’s an encounter I’d like to see! Something tells me the two men wouldn’t have much to talk about πŸ˜‰


  7. pengo says:

    Hmn. Manet sucks. I’m going to have to let that sink in for a while.

    It is true, he biffed the guitar. He often painted his subjects by looking at them through a mirror, and he either didn’t know or didn’t care that the backward image would look silly. However, in spite of his middle-class status, I find he has a helluva sense of humor, more often commenting on classical poses than trying to imitate them and failing miserably. See: Victorine as the matador.

    • artmodel says:


      Oh come on. I never said Manet “sucks”. That’s crazy. In fact, I called him a “great painter”, which he most certainly was. But I did accuse him of some “flagrant bullshittery” in The Spanish Singer πŸ˜†

      Perhaps, like you say, it was his sense of humor that motivated his more staged works. If that’s true, then he was successful in The Spanish Singer, because it is really clownish and farcical. But I still prefer the Manet who painted that gorgeous portrait of Berthe Morisot. One of the best portraits ever, in my opinion. She was a subject he knew well, had affection for, and presented with genuine feeling and beauty. He and Victorine were a strong artist/model pairing as well. Great chemistry there. But i will always admire Manet for that portrait of Morisot.

      Thanks for your comments!!


  8. Denis says:

    I thought exactly the same thing about the guitarist’s running shoes! Maybe Manet was just prescient?

    • artmodel says:


      Yeah, maybe! I read somewhere that those are supposed to be espadrilles, but they still look sneakerish to me πŸ˜†

      Thanks for your comment!


  9. Vishinsky says:

    Always something interesting, thank you museworthy!

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