During a recent excursion to the Royal Academy of Art for the Manet exhibition (soon closing on the 14th April), I found myself having a number of thoughts. To clarify, it’s not that having thoughts mid cultural outing is novel to me, that I state this. It is more that I had greater time than expected for said thoughts during the exhibition, thanks to overcrowding.. If you do go, and I recommend that you do, please wear padding because you will get elbowed a few times in the excitement of it all.
These thoughts, you’ll be thrilled to know, turned to the nature of artists lives, their ambitions and dreams. I suppose on deciding to follow such a path, no one says “Well mother dear, I want to be average, maybe mediocre”. Indeed, as an artist surely your dream in following your calling is to excel and to outshine your peers. Surely as an artist you want to forge a style, create a concept, start a movement that people will one day associate with your name.
How terribly unfortunate thus it must have been for our poor Manet, to have a better loved, more successful counterpart with such a similar name! “What’s that old chap?? No no, we wanted Monet with an ‘o’ and some of those fabulous lilies..” – disaster. Make matters even more awkward- the two were friends. I suppose at least, they were not related and avoided competition of the worst kind.
I don’t know if its just me, but it does feel like Manet has had the perpetual bad luck of playing second best for all of eternity. At this point, my infinitely better artistically educated friends will argue that the two artists are completely different. How can one possibly compare?
Are they though? I appreciate that yes that they are “different”.. one liked the outdoors and heralds all that the impressionist movement embodied; the other predominantly painted in a studio, evaded the impressionists, and his main subject was people, not lilies.. However both get lumbered under the impressionist name tag, get mentioned in relation to the other and frankly, in my head its funny to imagine that they were rivals.
Upside for Manet lovers out there – there is fairness in this world. Unlike Monet, Manet never struggled for his art, having been infinitely better off in the world thanks to his rich family and in addition, Manet never contemplated suicide. Every cloud- silver lining.
So, regardless of the fact that the two may not be comparable, and that they may not have loathed each other as bitter artistic fremenies, I invite you to contemplate- which one do you prefer?