Before Facebook, there was Manet, painting friends

Associated Press Published: October 14, 2012
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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Long before smartphones turned so many of us into amateur photographers and revolutionized how we depict each other through social media, there were the works of French Impressionist Edouard Manet.

Known for portraits of friends and celebrities of his era, the painter often called "the first modern artist" came of age during the mid-1800s when photography first became available to the public. He even kept his own collection of photos of the subjects he painted.

Manet's portraits and how they were influenced by photography are the focus of "Manet: Portraying Life" at the Toledo Museum of Art, the only U.S. museum to host the exhibition before it moves to The Royal Academy of Arts in London next winter.

The show that opened this month and runs through the end of the year features 40 paintings from public and private collections, including some of his best-known works. Instead of assembling a retrospective of Manet's works, the two museums chose portraits that would open the discussion of what impact photography had on Manet's paintings.

"We're not suggesting an exact reliance on photography, but this was a new medium in the era that he's painting and it was very important," said co-curator Lawrence Nichols.

It is the first time a Manet (1832-1883) exhibit has looked solely at his portraits, said Nichols, the museum's curator of European and American painting and sculpture before 1900. The museum's own collection includes Manet's portrait of a childhood friend who wrote extensively about the artist.

The works include straight forward portraits of men in top hats and women in flowing dresses. There are others that illustrate the change in around his home in Paris, revealing social unrest and the Industrial Revolution.

Sprinkled throughout the exhibition are photos of his subjects — some are original and others are digitized from an album Manet kept — to give insight into how he interpreted them the people he painted. In one photo, the tie and beard of a man bears a noticeable similarity to one of his paintings.

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