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The Brioche
by Édouard Manet
1870
Gift and Bequest of David and
Peggy Rockefeller, 1991, 2017

1991.287
Episode 8 / 2017
First Look

...it now permanently joins the finest collection of works by Manet outside Paris..."

Manet transformed the art world by audaciously restaging subjects from European old master painting in contemporary terms, using bold brushwork and color. This masterful still life exemplifies the artist's achievements in the genre that he once reportedly called "the touchstone of the painter." Still lifes were central to his creative practice, both as an independent subject and as a key element in the scenes of modern life that earned him fame. From 1862 to 1870, Manet produced a number of large-scale tabletop scenes of fish and fruit. The Brioche is the last, most elaborate, and most technically refined of the group. Adolphe Tabarant, Manet's biographer, wrote of this painting, "on a Louis XV rosewood table with ormolu mounts, covered with a dessert napkin, a brioche is set, topped with a white rose, and, behind it, a cluster of four peaches and a little basket of plums. In the foreground, at right, is a knife with a gilded silver blade and a mother-of-pearl handle, and a bunch of grapes. At left is a red lacquered box . . . Background unified and somber."

Some French families top a brioche with a flower on Easter morning as a symbol of resurrection, but the presence of plums, peaches, and grapes in this canvas suggests that Manet painted it after Easter, during the summer of 1870. The composition and the soft color harmonies of the blossom and fruit pay homage to Jean Siméon Chardin's painting The Brioche (1763), which the Louvre acquired the previous year. Manet made the motif his own with dramatic tonal contrasts and self-assured, palpable brushwork, particularly evident in his handling of the white fringed napkin and the rose petals, set off against a dark backdrop.

As a partial and promised gift of David and Peggy Rockefeller in 1991, this painting occasionally hung in The Met's galleries; it now permanently joins the finest collection of works by Manet outside Paris.

Alison Hokanson
Assistant Curator
Department of European Paintings
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