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Charles' asparagus

In 1880, the historian, art critic and collector Charles Ephrussi commissioned Édouard Manet to paint a still life with asparagus for the sum of 800 francs. Manet complies and delivers a canvas of such powerful realism that Ephrussi, delighted, pays him an additional 200 francs, i.e. 1000 francs for the work...

Telemaco Signorini. Le Pont de Waverley à Edinburgh. 1881.
Edouard Manet. Botte d'asperges. 1880. Musée Wallraf-Richartz

Signed lower left with a simple "manet" in cursive writing, the painting represents a bundle of about thirty asparagus placed on a bed of greenery. The black background brings out the shades of beige and purple of the legumes, the arrangement of which contrasts with the bulk of the leaves on which they are placed. The texture of the asparagus is remarkably rendered in its both tender and fibrous character. The diffuse light source and the absence of shadow give this still life an unreal look, belied by the almost anatomical rendering of the subject.

Claude Monet. Nature Morte à la théière. Détail
Édouard Manet. Une asperge. 1880. Musée d'Orsay

What was the surprise of Charles Ephrussi, when he received, eight days later, a second shipment from Édouard Manet: it was a very small painting (16cmx20cm) representing a single asparagus placed on the table veined with marble. Signed with a carelessly traced M at the top right, the canvas was accompanied by a note written in these terms: "I believe that this one slipped from the bundle...".


In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...



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