top of page

One painter, two portraits: Manet by Legros and by himself.

A pupil of Lecoq de Boisbaudran, influenced in his early days by Gustave Courbet, Alphonse Legros settled in England where he welcomed his compatriots Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet during the war of 1870. He will participate in the second impressionist exhibition of 1876 at Durand-Ruel. Appointed professor at the Slade School in London, he will encourage his students to exercise their visual memory and to have a sketchbook with them at all times.

Alphonse Legros is from the generation of 1863, the year of the Salon des Refusés where he presents this portrait of his friend Édouard Manet, which we are going to study more closely.

Caspar David Friedrich. Femme à la fenêtre. 1922. Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin
Alphonse Legros. Portrait d'Édouard Manet. 1863. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Paris

The painting is quite small. It measures 61.5 cm high and 50 cm wide. On the frame is inscribed: "Alphonse Legros born in 1837, pupil of Lecoq de Boisbaudran painted the portrait of Manet in 1863".

On this date, Édouard Manet was 31 years old and his painting abounded with Hispanic references, like the paintings presented at the Salon des Refusés, "Young man in majo's costume" and "Mlle V. in espada costume".

Édouard Manet. Le chanteur espagnol. 1860. Metropolitan Museum of Art. New-York
Édouard Manet. Le chanteur espagnol. 1860. Metropolitan Museum of Art. New-York

On Legros' canvas, Manet is seated in an armchair upholstered in red velvet, his legs crossed, in a dark suit of sober elegance. The part of the room where the painter is is empty, except for the painting hung behind him, which represents the "Spanish singer", painted by Manet in 1860.

We guess at the bottom of the canvas the base of another painting of which it is impossible to guess the subject. The composition is articulated on either side of a diagonal which joins the upper left edge and the lower right edge by following Manet's right leg and passing through the hand of the guitarist, which inscribes the model in a triangle .

The treatment of the background in dark red tones highlights Manet's face and hands, one resting on the armrest and holding a handkerchief, the other supporting the artist's head. The painting, severely damaged, has been restored several times.

If Édouard Manet remarkably knew how to portray the mores of his time, he was also a master of portraiture. Only two of his oil self-portraits survive.

Antoine Bourdelle. Femme à la fenêtre. Musée Antoine Bourdelle
Édouard Manet. Autoportrait à la palette. 1879. Collection privée Franck Giraud.

In the self-portrait with a palette, Édouard Manet is 16 years older than in the painting by Alphonse Legros. The smiling serenity has been transformed into a deep questioning about the trace that the painter will leave for posterity, in the affirmation of his art hammered by the palette and the brushes. The ochre-green universe, the barely sketched left hand, the elegance of the work clothes wonderfully underline the personality of the painter, who had only four years to live.

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


bottom of page