Feature

The Spectacle of Thought

Jon Leaver

In 1971 Michel Foucault delivered a lecture on the painter Édouard Manet at the University of Tunis, where until a few years before the philosopher had held a teaching position. Although tired and harried, meetings having occupied him all day, Foucault was fervent in his attention to Manet, emphasizing to his audience just how radical the painter was. The work Manet produced in Paris in the 1860s and 70s had changed everything, Foucault felt, and not just by the technical innovations with color, light, and subject matter that inspired the Impressionist painters who succeeded him. More than that, Manet was the first painter to reorient the way pictorial space itself was presented to the spectator, as something in front of which, rather than into which, we look. His paintings are not windows on another world (as had been the convention since the fifteenth century) but objects that frankly display their materiality.1

Manet also mattered to Foucault because the distinctiveness of his work revealed something about its moment of production. His pictures rendered visible a fundamental condition of modernity—its ephemerality, its estranged relationships, its spatial and temporal peculiarities, as well as the way all of these became a spectacle in the contemporary urban environment. A telling detail of Foucault’s lecture, therefore, is that throughout he refers to the painter only by his last name in a manner that suggests “Manet” was not so much an individual as an event or phenomenon.2 For Foucault, then, Manet signified a defining moment of rupture with the past whose fault line demarcated a new and distinctively modern condition. One of the central aims of Foucault’s archaeological method was to uncover such displacements and discontinuities in the strata of history. At this moment, Foucault suggested to his audience, a new condition moved into the spaces of modernity. Manet’s pictures present the aesthetic form of this condition.

In the presence of one of his paintings, Manet’s singularity is only too obvious. I was reminded of this fact the other day as I stood in front of Le Chemin de fer (The Railway, 1872–73), during its recent loan to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena from the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. Manet’s painting is astonishingly striking, exemplified by the fact that one of its two protagonists meets the spectator’s gaze in an inescapable way. In the center of the picture, a little girl dressed in white grips a set of vertical iron railings and looks into the railway cutting beyond, but our attention is arrested by the young woman sitting beside her in a navy blue dress (her mother? her nanny?), with an open book, a sleeping puppy, and a folded fan on her lap, staring straight at us.

Edouard Manet, "Le Chemin de fer (The Railway)," 1873–74. Oil on canvas, 36¾ × 43⅞ inches. Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Edouard Manet, Le Chemin de fer (The Railway), 1873–74. Oil on canvas, 36¾ × 43⅞ inches. Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Many of Manet’s paintings look back at us in this way—it’s one of his hallmarks—but there’s more to the strikingness of Le Chemin de fer than just this. It’s not only the young woman’s gaze, but the whole picture that faces us; the railings, the back of the little girl, the brightness and contrast of the marked surface itself, all strike our attention in a startling way. What is more, the picture makes us unusually aware that it hangs on a wall in its heavy gilt frame, and is lit in a particular way by an external light, though it’s difficult to say at first how it does this. Whatever the mechanism, the spectator is constantly aware of the plane of the canvas as a thing in its own right, and the difference this confers on it in respect to other paintings in the gallery.

“Strikingness,” by the way, is a clumsy and somewhat imprecise way to describe the quality I want to identify here, but what other word will do? The problem is that Manet’s paintings are not like others, and they demand a specialized, not to say cant, language to describe them. Perhaps, then, one way to articulate Manet’s singularity is to compare his work with that of another painter with whom he shared a room at the Norton Simon. Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Pont des Arts, Paris (1868), on an adjacent wall, was painted five or six years before Le Chemin de fer and represents an alternate view of the public life of Paris, its infrastructure and inhabitants. Renoir’s work, in common with Manet’s, displays a loose handling of paint, signifying the spontaneity of its production, and a bright, airy approach to color that accords with the modernity of his subject. But where Renoir’s view of bridge and quayside recedes before us into a space that the picture opens up, Manet’s picture remains doggedly shallow. Moreover, whereas Renoir’s picture encourages us to enter the public space it represents, allowing us the time and freedom to explore it, Manet’s work is much more confined, temporally and spatially, and instead of absorbing us, comes out to meet us in a direct, unmediated way. It is this experience of Manet’s direct approach that my word “strikingness” attempts to convey.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Pont des Arts, Paris," 1868. Oil on canvas, 24 × 39½ inches. © The Norton Simon Foundation.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pont des Arts, Paris, 1868. Oil on canvas, 24 × 39½ inches. © The Norton Simon Foundation.

Viewers have noticed this aspect of Manet’s work from the moment it appeared in public. The critic Armand Silvestre, for example, who wrote about Le Chemin de fer when it was first exhibited at the Salon of 1874, claimed that Manet attempted to render what he termed an “instantaneous impression”: “One can regret that Manet didn’t seek something else,” he added disapprovingly, “but it’s clear that he has rendered what he sought, that is, an immediate and very distinct impression.”3 Silvestre’s use of the word “impression” is helpful, I think, since it signals the contemporary idea that perception is at its freshest and most direct in its initial phases, when it is most personal and unmediated by conventional ideas. This is what an “impression” was, the raw impact of the world on the senses. According to Manet’s friend Stéphane Mallarmé, capturing a moment with the utmost freshness was precisely Manet’s aim. His habitual aphorism, Mallarmé records, “is that no one should paint a landscape and a figure by the same process, with the same knowledge, or in the same fashion; nor what is more, even two landscapes or two figures. Each should be a new creation of the mind.”4 Of course, such personal forms of perception and expression stood in stark opposition to the academic discourse that largely held sway in French art at the time. Convention was everything here, since it demonstrated an adherence to a timeless classical tradition, and to the transcendent ideal that stood at its apex. The conventional idea of the picture as a window was a central component of this tradition, its organizing principle being the ideal viewer from whose perspective, and for whose consumption, the pictorial space was laid out. Manet’s paintings overturned this principle by effectively abandoning single viewpoint perspective. In its place he installed the primordial fact (as he would have seen it) of the “instantaneous impression.”

Unfortunately for Manet, ditching these conventions inevitably brought scandal and disregard in its wake. As Foucault knew only too well, when faced with another’s difference, the instinct is often to label it as mad. Is it any wonder, then, that some critics interpreted Manet’s idiosyncratic singularity as a token of insanity? In his caricature of Le Chemin de fer at the Salon of 1874, the cartoonist Stop identified its two figures as “two madwomen, gripped by incurable monomanetmania, watch[ing] the rail cars through the bars of their cell.”5 Yet Manet knew that such a response was in one sense an affirmation of his intention to paint the world afresh with every new motif. In 1882 his friend Antonin Proust recalled his reaction to another negative critical response: “The Imbeciles!” he exclaimed. “They have never stopped telling me that I am inconsistent: they couldn’t say anything more flattering. It has always been my ambition not to remain consistent, not to re-do, the next day, what I had done the day before, but constantly to find my inspiration from some new aspect, and to seek to produce a new note.”6 Manet’s directness, then, was first and foremost an attempt to replicate the immediacy of subjective experience or to express, as Foucault put it, a “barbaric truth” in the face of orthodox falsehoods.7

For Foucault, returning to the subject of Manet in his final lecture course at the Collège de France in 1984, the year of his death, this truth telling was fundamental to the nature of modern art from Manet onwards. He argued that art evolved this function out of a grand tradition of anti-authoritarian thought whose origin was the ancient Cynics’ notion of parrhēsia (frankness or candor), an idea that, according to Foucault, is fundamentally anti-Platonic (i.e. anti-ideal) at its core. Such an aim certainly accords with the frankness of Manet’s approach to picture making—his self-proclaimed “sincerity”—as well as the artist’s continual rejection of phony conventionality. Thus, the unconventional directness of the gaze turned toward us in Le Chemin de fer, its foregrounding of individual thought and agency, is deeply embedded in Manet’s project.

As Foucault’s ongoing concern with Manet demonstrates, his work engenders a fascination that draws one back repeatedly. Likewise, I found not only that I had to visit Le Chemin de fer on a number of occasions during its stay in Pasadena, but also that I thought about it a lot in the intervening time. The questions the painting raised were persistent and suggestive, albeit strangely ontological. One of Manet’s great coups, it seems, was to make thinking about the nature of being (and especially the nature of being in front of a picture) so viscerally fascinating. At first, then, the key to the mystery seemed to be to work out exactly why the viewer was made to stand in such an unusual relation to the picture. Why, to be more specific, we are absorbed by the spectacle Le Chemin de fer presents at one moment, only to be recalled to the reality of the marked surface and all its artifice the next. What could this mean?

For Foucault, this duality was summarized in the category of “picture objects” he applies to Manet’s most innovative paintings. These works make the very nature of the canvas—the fact that it has edges and a frame, as well as a recto and verso—a theme of the representation itself. By way of illustration, Foucault cites Le Chemin de fer, where amidst the verticals and horizontals that define the structure of the picture, we see:

two figures who summon us, head-to-tail. … What the woman is watching—and you see she watches it with a great sort of intensity— is a spectacle that we cannot see since it is in front of the canvas; and as for what the little girl is looking at, well, we cannot see it since Manet has deployed here the smoke of a train which is just passing, in such a way that we, we have nothing to see. And to have seen what they see, we would have had either to get over the shoulder of the little girl or to have walked around the picture in order to see over the woman’s shoulder.8

In this way, Foucault points out, Manet embeds the peculiar objectness of the painting in the structure of our relation to what we see, exposing the very mechanisms that underpin the practice of painting. This is an important meaning in itself, Foucault thinks.

Perversely, given Foucault’s insistence on Manet’s originality, there is historical significance to the way Le Chemin de fer “summons” the spectator, as he puts it, since this innovation emerged out of a longstanding pictorial dialectic. Michael Fried has observed that some of the defining concerns of Manet’s work sprang from ideas initiated by Dennis Diderot a century before.9 One way to understanding Manet’s strategies, therefore, is in the context of the Diderotian notion that paintings should achieve a balance between two opposing pictorial positions: absorption and theatricality. On one hand, paintings should not exclude the spectator from the picture by making it too inward looking and hermetic. On the other hand, paintings should also avoid overt appeals to the spectator, which end up looking fake or staged.

Edouard Manet, "Le Chemin de fer (The Railway)" (detail), 1873–74. Oil on canvas, 36¾ × 43⅞ inches. Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Edouard Manet, Le Chemin de fer (The Railway) (detail), 1873–74. Oil on canvas, 36¾ × 43⅞ inches. Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The solution that Manet arrived at, according to Fried, lay in adopting a “presentational” and “frozen” style that avoided stilted and theatrical narrative approaches while at the same time maintaining the clear separation of painting and spectator—as things that face each other—thereby preventing the viewer from being overly absorbed by the picture.10 Fried argues that the outcome of this careful setup is a weird effect whereby neither the fiction of the constructed scene, nor the sitter posing before the painter (in the case of the young woman in Le Chemin de fer, Manet’s preferred model Victorine Meurent), is fully apparent to the viewer. Instead we are left with a sense of the presence of the painting itself, and an impression of the artist having painted it (thanks to Manet’s inescapable touch manifested in the paint before us). It is certainly the case that Le Chemin de fer continually reminds us of the material facts of its production and makes us engage with it on these terms. For example, when looking at the blue bow on the back of the little girl’s dress, which is vigorously but cursorily painted, we are forced to confront the painter’s touch and fill in the missing detail to recognize what he intended us to see there. Our spontaneous reaction to such insistent facture is necessary to the creation of meaning in the painting, in other words.

It’s clear, then, that in a fundamental way Manet’s picture is about us. It faces us, it looks at us, it implies us, it involves us. But one important question in this regard (perhaps the most important question) concerns who exactly is “us”—the “us” at whom the young woman in Le Chemin de fer is looking? A very compelling answer to this question is provided by Richard Wollheim, who theorized the nature of pictorial spectatorship in his book Painting as an Art.11 Wollheim recognized that some paintings position the spectator in unusual ways and that Manet’s works provide particularly interesting examples of this. As part of his general theoretical scheme, Wollheim distinguished between two kinds of spectator, the spectator of the picture (who always exists) and the spectator in the picture (who makes an appearance in certain kinds of painting). The difference between the two is this: the spectator of the picture exists in real space, that is, in the gallery itself, while the spectator in the picture is a kind of projection of the pictured world outside the limits of the canvas. We cannot see the spectator in the picture, but her or his presence is heavily implied by what is represented. Manet’s paintings commonly contain such a figure—most often the person at whom the outward gaze of one of those pictured is directed. According to Wollheim, Manet intended a painting like Le Chemin de fer to be looked at as though it contains such a spectator, and that we should imagine ourselves in his shoes, so to speak, and imaginatively respond to, and act upon, the scene before us.12

So the scenario the painting presents is this: we are walking along the Rue de Hambourg towards the Pont de l’Europe when we encounter a young woman and a little girl who have stopped to look at the railway. The young woman sits on the stone base of some railings facing toward us and fleetingly catches our eye, or so we think. A moment later, though, we realize she is lost in thought and looks past us, absorbed by her ideas, presumably those provoked by the book in her lap, her finger marking the page to which she will return in a moment. In the absence of a connection with her, we are left instead with our own impressions of the fleeting scene: the odd brightness of the sunlight on the child’s arm and dress, contrasting perceptibly with the shade that darkens her head and neck as a cloud of smoke passes overhead, and a peculiarly fat bunch of grapes placed on the stone base of the railing. And on we pass. What is particularly moving about this encounter, we come to realize, is that what we have witnessed is a moment of wordless ennui. The young women’s daydream is a retreat from a world that demands distraction in order to be bearable. As Wollheim points out, in this instant even maternal love (he presumes this relationship) and the dependency of her child, “powerful springs to action, we might think,” do not “prove strong enough to hold the protagonists together.” Just when her most precious object is at hand, Wollheim asserts, she is “deflected” and is forced into a world of fantasy rather than experience.13

One of the attractions of Wollheim’s reading lies in its reassurance that our experience in front of the painting is not solipsistic, but rather something shared with the painter—we see the painting just as Manet intended us to see it, his theory insists. In spite of its appeal, though, this idea leaves me uneasy, especially in relation to Le Chemin de fer, since by binding the painter and the spectator together so closely (as a Modernist account such as Fried’s also does) it leaves little room for the animating center of the painting, that is, the gaze of Victorine Meurent and the sense of agency we glimpse in it. Since Manet first painted her in 1862, Meurent had played a key role in many of his large-scale figure paintings, always in some costume or guise but in each fully and powerfully present to the spectator. Le Chemin de fer was the last of the paintings for which she modeled, yet, as Manet’s friends recognized, her collaboration had left its mark. Jacques-Emile Blanche, for one, claimed that she had “decisively influenc[ed] the character of his works.”14 Meurent, therefore, is in the painting to an unusual degree, inhabiting it just as Manet inhabits the marked surface.

Berthe Morisot, "Au Balcon (On the Balcony)," 1871–72. Watercolor, with touches of gouache, over graphite, on off-white wove paper; 8⅛ × 6¾ inches. Gift of Mrs. Charles Netcher in memory of Charles Netcher II, 1933.1, The Art Institute of Chicago. Photograph © Art Institute of Chicago.

Berthe Morisot, Au Balcon (On the Balcony), 1871–72. Watercolor, with touches of gouache, over graphite, on off-white wove paper; 8⅛ × 6¾ inches. Gift of Mrs. Charles Netcher in memory of Charles Netcher II, 1933.1, The Art Institute of Chicago. Photograph © Art Institute of Chicago.

Beyond Meurent, too, lie other collaborations that were similarly influential and that add further dimensions to Manet’s painting. Carol Armstrong has demonstrated that Le Chemin de fer was part of an ongoing pictorial dialogue between Manet and Berthe Morisot that began in 1868 when Morisot modeled for his painting Le Balcon (The Balcony, 1868–69).15 The two painters became friends and produced a series of paintings in response to each other’s work, adopting some of the other’s themes and techniques, but making modifications each considered appropriate to his or her own project and experience. This can be seen most vividly in the relation between Le Chemin de fer and Morisot’s watercolor Au Balcon (On the Balcony, 1871-72), which she had painted two years before. Each artist’s contribution to this dialogue articulated a distinctly gendered perspective, Morisot from the point of view of a bourgeois woman subject to the restrictions public space imposed on her mobility and Manet with all the freedom afforded to men. But there is also an important sense in which the example provided by the other artist was incorporated into each subsequent work. Thus, a painting such as Morisot’s portrait of her mother and sister of 1869–70 evidently borrowed Manet’s compressed space and absent gaze to evoke the sitters’ uneasy domestic confinement. In turn, Manet’s Le Chemin de fer integrated the lesson of Morisot’s paintings of this period on how to depict the private female self.

Berthe Morisot, "Portrait de Mme Morisot et de sa fille Mme Pontillon (The Mother and Sister of the Artist)," 1869–70. Oil on canvas, 39¾ × 32 3/16  inches. Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Berthe Morisot, Portrait de Mme Morisot et de sa fille Mme Pontillon (The Mother and Sister of the Artist), 1869–70. Oil on canvas, 39¾ × 32 3/16 inches. Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Conceived this way, Manet’s painting can be seen as an accumulation of perspectives that are organized around the young woman’s thinking, looking psyche, which startlingly mirrors our own activity of looking and thinking about the painting itself. At its center, then, lies what we might call the painting’s ontological starting point: the fact of our own existence alongside other people, viscerally experienced as we stand in front of the painting and see our own thinking selves reflected in the young woman we see before us. Isn’t that what the painting is about—the nature of looking and thinking, seen both from our own perspective as well as glimpsed in other people?

Around this central core of meaning, though, Le Chemin de fer is a challenge to conventional notions of pictorial meaning. The painting builds a series of viewpoints that disrupt the certainties of the position of both painter and spectator as they are enshrined in Wollheim’s account. The young woman’s inescapable presence interposes itself and asserts her place as a third and equal term. The painting consequently refuses to be confined within a series of binary oppositions—painter/spectator, fiction/reality, surface/space— but instead presents a variety of roles and experiences, in and out of which the painter, the spectator, and the models shift, allowing us (whoever “us” is at any given moment) to think about and inhabit a range of different viewpoints. Thus, just as the painting extends its world outwards to encompass the spectator, so too does it extend itself backwards, framing a role that Meurent inhabited and made manifest.

Standing in front of Le Chemin de fer for any amount of time, it becomes clear that following its initial hook—the recognition of our self reflected in Victorine Meurent’s gaze—the painting raises far more questions in viewers’ minds than it ever answers.16 This quality is exemplified by the nagging question I raised at the very beginning: Is the young woman in the navy dress the mother of the little girl or her governess? Art historians have persuasively argued that the way she is dressed—that is, very modishly—would have been out of character for a bourgeois young mother, conventionally a more demure role. A further question therefore follows: Does her dress define her, or is her unconventionality a reflection of character? Is she a rebel in this blue dress? There is no conclusive answer, of course.

This lack of definitive answers is apt to Manet’s subject since irresolution was a palpable feature of the contemporary urban environment his work depicts. As T. J. Clark has pointed out, the steam glimpsed through the railings in Le Chemin de fer stands metaphorically for the way modernity is marked by precipitous change, dispersal, and the ultimate intangibility of appearances.17 Clark’s view is informed by his understanding of the social conditions of Paris at the time, which were profoundly altered by Georges-Eugéne Haussmann’s redevelopment of the city under Napoleon III. One contemporary interpretation of the consequences of these changes, Clark tells us, is that they rendered the city illegible. As the social structures of former times dissolved and reformed, and as the physical fabric of the city itself was torn up and rebuilt, the public spaces of Paris became sites (and sights) of uncertainty.18 Is it too much to suggest, then, that Manet’s title of Le Chemin de fer (the name of a variation of the card game baccarat) reflects the idea of the spaces of modernity being defined by chance, uncertainty, and speculation?19

Edouard Manet, "Le Chemin de fer (The Railway)" (detail), 1873–74. Oil on canvas, 36¾ × 43⅞ inches. Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Edouard Manet, Le Chemin de fer (The Railway) (detail), 1873–74. Oil on canvas, 36¾ × 43⅞ inches. Gift of Horace Havemeyer in memory of his mother, Louisine W. Havemeyer. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Why, though, should the spectacle of thought confront us so viscerally in this context, why does it seem so conspicuous? One answer might be that the young woman’s thought is out of step with the flow of time—time, that is, in its external, mechanical sense, the time of the factory bell or the railway timetable, as temporal experience was increasingly organized in the nineteenth century. Since the painting shows a street scene in which we might expect time to function in this routine way, it is a shock to encounter a moment of introspection, its depth and significance palpable. It brings us up short. The woman’s gaze therefore alerts us to a general social condition in which private experience is unable to connect to the wider public sphere. For Walter Benjamin, the novel in her lap is a further symptom of this dislocation. Reading is a solitary pursuit to begin with but, in Benjamin’s analysis, the cheap paperback in Le Chemin de fer represents a commodified version of the general category of the story.20 He theorized that in their most basic form stories provide a framework that allows a community to understand individual experience and tie it to a collective past. Commodification effectively marks the death of the story in this sense since under capitalist conditions it serves only the interest of the individual in an indifferent market.

All of which is especially poignant since bourgeois society was in many ways a source of liberty, providing greater mobility (thanks to the railway), valuing personal sensation (in the form of the “impression”), and democratizing culture (exemplified by the paperback novel). If the young woman we see here has yet to fully benefit from this liberation, she is a powerful emblem of the kind of individual agency that would take advantage of it, breaking out of the constraints imposed by conventional ideologies of womanhood. In this way, the painting seems to express the discontent evident in this journal entry from 1882 by the painter Marie Bashkirtseff: “Ah! How women are to be pitied: men at least are free. Absolute independence in everyday life, liberty to come and go, to go out, to dine in a inn or a home, to walk in the Bois or the café; this liberty is half the battle in acquiring talent, and three parts of everyday happiness.”21 The tragedy of Le Chemin de fer, then, is that it shows us the terrible contradiction of bourgeois society, in which, having banished the old order’s complacent certainties about the world, the bourgeois protagonist seeks fulfillment in individual experience only to find isolation and uncertainty there.

Which brings us back to the spectator’s relationship with the marked surface, which, as we’ve noted, constantly makes itself apparent, recalling us to our own solitary act of looking and its subjectivity. Here too we find ourselves reflected in the picture: while we look and think, we also watch someone else looking and thinking. This dialectical mirroring recalls Foucault’s famous description in The Order of Things of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, a painting whose duplication and reflection of the position of the spectator represented the crowning achievement of “classical” painting, as he referred to it, a form that aimed to render representation transparent, its illusion totally lucid.22 Manet on the other hand reverses this trick, making the materiality of painting apparent once more to the viewer in all its sensuous glory. By doing so he also allows us to grasp the paradox of modern materialism, its pleasures as well as its alienation. This was the historical rupture Foucault identified in Manet. The essence of modernity was in Victorine Meurent’s look, both its hope and its despair.

Jon Leaver is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of La Verne. His research focuses on nineteenth-century art and criticism as well as the contemporary art of Los Angeles.

Footnotes

  1. Foucault once planned a book on Manet, provisionally called Le Noir et la surface (The Black and the Surface). He may, indeed, have completed a portion of it, judging by Gilles Deleuze’s familiarity with its contents, but for one reason or another Foucault ultimately abandoned the project and, according to Deleuze, destroyed the manuscript. See Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, trans. Séan Hand (London and New York: Continuum, 1988), 49.
  2. In his introduction to the recent translation of Foucault’s lecture, Nicolas Bourriaud speaks of Foucault’s description of Manet in this way as signifying “an intensity, an electric field.” Michel Foucault, Manet and the Object of Painting, trans. Matthew Barr (London: Tate Publishing, 2009), 13.
  3. Armand Silvestre, “Salon de 1874,” L’Opinion nationale (April 1874). Quoted in Michael Fried, Manet’s Modernism or, the Face of Painting in the 1860s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 301.
  4. Stéphane Mallarmé, “The Impressionists and Edouard Manet,” Art Monthly Review (September 1876). Quoted in John House, “Manet’s Naïveté,” in The Hidden Face of Manet: An Investigation of the Artist’s Working Processes, ed. Juliet Wilson-Bareau (London: Courtauld Institute Galleries, 1986), 2.
  5. Stop, “The Salon of 1874 by Stop,” Le Journal amusant (June 1874). Quoted in Juliet Wilson-Bareau, Manet, Monet, and the Gare Saint-Lazare (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998), 51.
  6. Antonin Proust, ‘L’Art d’Edouard Manet,” Le Studio (January 1901), 76. Quoted in House, 3.
  7. Michel Foucault, The Courage of Truth: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1983– 83, ed. Frédéric Gros, trans. Graham Burchell (Basingstoke: Palmgrave Macmillan, 2011), 189.
  8. Foucault, Manet and the Object of Painting, 54.
  9. See Fried, Manet’s Modernism, 295–96, and Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and the Beholder in the Age of Diderot (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).
  10. Fried, Manet’s Modernism, 340–46.
  11. Richard Wollheim, Painting as an Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998).
  12. The masculine pronoun is deliberate here, since, as Wollheim notes, the implied gaze of the spectator in this picture is clearly male. This perspective was a particular sticking point for Griselda Pollock, who saw this as a means of excluding the female spectator from a full and dynamic interaction with the contents of such paintings. I would argue, however, that the way Le Chemin de fer thrusts its protagonists into our space and faces us with the young woman’s gaze disrupts the primacy of the male perspective. In a sense, what I am arguing for here is a view of Manet in which his paintings attempt to redress what Pollock calls the “historical asymmetry” of being a woman and being a man in Paris in the late nineteenth century. See Griselda Pollock, “Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity,” Vision and Difference: Femininity and the Histories of Art (London and New York: Routledge, 1988), 53–55.
  13. Wollheim, 260.
  14. Jacques-Emile Blanche, Manet (Paris: Reider, 1924), 24. Quoted in Françoise Cachin, Charles S. Moffett, Juliet Wilson Bareau, Manet, 1832– 1883 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983), 105. See also Eunice Lipton, Alias Olympia: A Woman’s Search for Manet’s Notorious Model and Her Own Desire (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999).
  15. Carol Armstrong, Manet Manette (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), 175–210.
  16. This inscrutability is nothing new. In 1874 Ernest Duvergier de Hauranne found Le Chemin de fer something of an enigma, not least in terms of its genre: “Is it a portrait of two persons or a tableau in a particular style?” he asked. “We don’t have the information to resolve that problem; we hesitate even more in that as far as the young girl is concerned hers would be a portrait seen from the back.” See Ernest Duvergier de Hauranne, quoted in Fried, Manet’s Modernism, 301. The critic Paul Mantz had a similar problem understand- ing Manet’s Le Balcon (1868): “One doesn’t quite know what the good people are doing on the balcony, and the German critics, curious about the philosophical meaning of things, would be very hard put to understand or explain the content. The accentuation of a type, the characterization of a feeling or idea, would be sought in vain in this painting devoid of thought.” See Paul Mantz, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, July 1869, 13, quoted in George Heard Hamilton, Manet and His Critics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), 135–36.
  17. T. J. Clark, “Modernism, Postmodernism and Steam,” October 100 (Spring 2002), 158–59.
  18. T. J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), 46–49.
  19. Manet’s friend Antonin Proust recalls the painter’s reaction to the flux of a city under construction, not far from the setting of Le Chemin de fer: “We strolled together, one day, along what was later to be the Boulevard Malesherbes, through the midst of the demolitions, intersected by gaping holes where the ground had already been leveled. The Monceau district had not yet been planned. At each step Manet stopped me. A cedar standing alone in the middle of a neglected garden caught his attention; the tree seemed to be seeking, under its long branches, the flower beds which were now no more. ‘Look at its bark,’ he said to me, ‘look at the shadows.’” See Antonin Proust, Édouard Manet: Souvenirs (Paris: Librairie Renouard, 1913), 39–40.
  20. Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schoken Books, 1968), 87–88.
  21. Marie Bashkirtseff, Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff, trans. A. D. Hall and G. B. Heckel (Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally and Company, 1890), 634. Quoted in Paul Smith, Impressionism: Beneath the Surface (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1995), 68.
  22. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2002), 3–18.