On Looking at a Manet: With Apologies to Rilke

May 15, 2013

I own a small Edouard Manet. It is a tiny print, a re-strike, of Charles Baudelaire that I bought at a print sale in 1966. It hangs in my kitchen above a desk and under a book shelf. Most visitors miss it and many of my friends, who are not artists, if they do see it, don’t give it a second thought. It is easy to miss although it is quite a famous image. It is likely of little value as I paid very little for it being a graduate student at the time I bought it and even if it was to prove a valuable print, I wouldn’t sell it as it is part of who I am.


Looking at it makes me happy as it is a direct link both to Manet and Baudelaire who are personal heroes for any number of reasons and I own a piece of both of them. Perhaps Manet did not physically ink this print, but he sure as hell drew the image and made the plate and the drawing on the plate was of his friend Baudelaire. I wonder what they were talking about during the sitting if there was one? I hope it was profound. Maybe it was about the weather or what they had for lunch or, perhaps, a turning point in the history of modern art. I would like to think it was the latter. Baudelaire was, in the minds of many, mine included, the first modern art critic and Manet was one hell of a modern artist. I certainly would have liked to have been in the room during the sitting sipping a glass of wine and smoking a cigar. Perhaps I could have shared a bon mot and changed the history of art.

Mind you, Manet could have been working from a photograph for this image of Baudelaire, but that is a whole other issue and I am not going there. It is a fact that the two were good friends and this was at the very beginnings of Impressionism. What artists should have not wanted to be in Paris at this time. The print dates from 1865 and Baudelaire died in 1867. Writers, painters and composers were all in the mix and in all in the cafes and salons that were so central to this start of what was going to become Modernism. It is my firm belief that these artists talked to one another at these places rather than blogging as I am here sitting in my basement office or tweeting on their smart phones. Perhaps something came from these conversations, but that is only my opinion.

In daydreams I often place myself in the role of an artist of the past. Looking at a painting I can feel every brush stroke as if I made them myself; I feel the pressure of the brush against the canvas and the smell of paint. I see the subject, if there is one, as if were in front of me. It is a type of magic that is only available if you studied traditional studio painting and have a good sense of imagination. It does make looking at art more fun than Post-Modern analysis, and or deconstruction theory, that often leads to boring art criticism. Art, paintings in museums, was made by real people, men and women, who stood in front of a canvas doing their thing.

The visual arts do have the power to transport us to other places that are mostly in our minds as does music and literature. It doesn’t take much, at least for me, for this to happen as is the case with this little Manet print. A print or a painting is a point in time and we live in time that keeps moving forward; a process we have little control of, but art works give us the chance to stop time if only for a moment. Baudelaire lives timelessly in my kitchen and he will continue to live, as long as the print exists, long after I am gone.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Sunday, 12 May, 2013.


  1. Great post! I have had the thought that a painting is time captured, a measure of the life poured into its creation….

    • I couldn’t agree more and what is keeping you busy these days, Dixie?

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