Claude Monet: Camille (1866); Kunsthalle, Bremen.

A mild jury of the 1865 Salon - the annual exhibition of the Parisian Académie des Beaux-Arts – accepted paintings by both Edouard Manet (Olympia and a religious work) and Claude Monet. Manet’s unacademic style had been rejected by previous juries or ridiculed by critics; even colleagues found it ‘fit for nothing but the decoration of a lunatic asylum’. The ambitious Monet, at 24 Manet’s junior by 9 years, made his debut with two seascapes and later reminisced that ‘they were given pride of place, hung high-up in good view. It was a great success’. But Manet was puzzled when on opening day visitors congratulated him on his ‘superb seascapes’. After discovering his name was confused with a newcomer’s, he indignantly wondered ‘who is this Monet, whose name sounds just like mine and who takes advantage of my notoriety?’
The incident repeated itself in 1866. Salon visitors welcomed Manet with handshakes, 'bravos' and congratulations: ‘Excellent, my friend, your picture!’ But a frustrated Manet soon found the praised canvas to be a portrait of Monet’s fiancée Camille, ‘The Woman in Green’. To aggravate things, while leaving he stumbled on some friends and Monet himself, whom he had never met. Ignoring Monet, Manet exclaimed: ‘Ah, my friends, it’s disgusting, I am furious! One is only complimenting me on a painting that is not even by me. One would think it’s a hoax.’
The confusion was understandable. Camille’s portrait resembled Manet’s style: broad planes, shallow space, bold black outlines. But Manet had been praised for a masterly touch which was not his: a heavy blow to his pride. His grudge lasted for some years, until the two became friends when meeting again in 1869. From then on, they gathered regularly in the café Guerbois with fellow artists like Cézanne, Degas, and Renoir to exchange ideas at the end of a working day. While the radical Manet kept struggling to become an accepted Salon painter, the Impressionists around Monet tried to persuade the older painter to join their independent exhibitions. In vain, though Manet’s later works like ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’ are seen as Impressionist masterpieces.
(Text: Jos Hanou)