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The odd couple: Manet and Goya

"Francisco de Goya “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen has mounted a show called “Manet’s Goya,” which makes the point that these artists, though separated by nearly a century, worked similarly against the sensibilities of their time.

But the message the museum seems to be sending - that these artists’ acts of rebellion were rare and particular to them - is plain silly. Singling out Manet and Goya for their supposed mutuality leaves out a slew of artists with far more demonstrable ties.

Exhibit literature talks about their ridicule of the high and low. Let's talk about this.

Yes, sure, Caprichos,” Goya’s series of 80 etchings mocked, in his words, "the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual." Titles he gave each capricho, like, "The sleep of reason produces monsters" tells the story.

And yes, sure, Manet mocked manners in his time and place, too. His painting “Luncheon on the Grass” - showing two clothed men and a nude woman picnicking in a public park - shocked Parisian society. After all, the woman looks straight at the viewer, without the usual reticence of nude women traditionally seen in art.

But there are so many more direct links between artists than that between Manet and Goya. Brancusi influenced Henry Moore, who acknowledged his debt this way: “Since the Gothic European sculptures had become overgrown with moss, weeds – all sorts of surface excessiveness, which completely concealed shape - it was Brancusi’s especial mission to get rid of the undergrowth and to make it once more shape-conscious.”

Then there was Francis Bacon who took from Velázquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X for his own rendition, and Picasso lifted Velasquez’ “Las Menines” to make 44 “studies” - down to the same title, and Van Gogh tapped 21 paintings by Jean Francois Millet.

The list of artists through history with something in common is long. If mutuality is the newsmaker here, then Manet and Goya would need to get in the back of a long line.

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