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Luncheon on the Grass
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It might be totally routine to walk past a lady in the buff picnicking with her clothed companions in Dolores Park, circa 2015.

But back in 1862, taking your kit off for an al fresco lunch was definitely unsavory! Luncheon on the Grass, previously titled Le Bain or The Bath, was offered up for grabs to the Salon jury of 1863, who rejected it because of its undeniable shock factor and its couldn’t-care-less attitude towards traditional painting norms. It became one of the choice pieces in the Salon des Refuses, a place where all rejects came together and continued to scandalize nonetheless.

Manet, who created the no-nonsense nude, Olympia, started us off with a less defiant portrait of his favorite model Victorine Meurent. In Dejeuner sur l'Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), she is seated amongst her debonair friends and staring out rather frankly at the viewer…without a stitch of clothes on. Her friends liked to call her La Crevette aka the Shrimp, owing to her slight figure. (She doesn’t look too skinny here, but you know what they say: the painting adds ten pounds!)

The other two are supposedly modeled on Manet’s own brothers (both Eugene and Gustave mashed into one figure) and his brother-in-law Ferdinand Leenhoff. No strangers in this painting. However, the two men seem totally disinterested in the naked lady in front of them. Hmm…makes me question the sexuality of these dapper dudes. But in fact, no two gazes seem to connect in this mysterious image, making everyone seem alienated from each other. Kind of like an Absurdist play, or a really awkward group date

This is one of those paintings that pose quite a conundrum because I can’t for the life of me come to a conclusion about what it MEANS. Doesn’t mean I can’t scare up a new theory every time I look at it. Which I suppose is endlessly fascinating (but so much work!). Sometimes it feels like Manet’s priority was to break all the rules of classical mythology, while appropriating key elements from it. “L on the G” blatantly borrows from Raphael’s The Judgment of Paris, but instead of gods and goddesses supping in the nude – they’re real people! And Victorine’s nakedness is not mystified or made sexy with shy, suggestive gestures. Nah, her clothes are all in a heap beside her, and she isn’t making any attempt to put them back on.

 

 

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) – originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) – is a large oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet created in 1862 and 1863. It depicts a female nude and a scantily dressed female bather on a picnic with two fully dressed men in a rural setting. Rejected by the Salon jury of 1863, Manet seized the opportunity to exhibit this and two other paintings in the 1863 Salon des Refusés, where the painting sparked public notoriety and controversy. The work is now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. A smaller, earlier version can be seen at the Courtauld Gallery, London.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe.