Manet and Modern Beauty

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Manet and Modern Beauty: The Artist’s Last Years, edited by Scott Allan, Emily A. Beeny, and Gloria Groom, is the catalogue for the eponymous exhibit of Édouard Manet’s later works. Filled with lush color representations of the paintings and ephemera on display, the expansive book also delights with authoritative, informative essays for those who might not be as familiar with Manet’s life and painting, or for those eager to learn current theories about the painter.

Later in life Manet gravitated toward unabashedly painting fashion, flowers, and fruit. Unlike his political and hierarchical-upsetting earlier works, he seemed pleased to focus on painting what simply appealed to his eyes during his later years when he was unwell and had limited mobility.

Two notable works in the collection are Jeanne (Spring) and Autumn (Méry Laurent), the only two of a planned set of four to represent the seasons that Manet completed.

The Conservatory, Plum Brandy, Waitress Serving Beer, and the CaféConcert are some of the other paintings depicting modern life and fashion that preoccupied Manet in the second half of his career. No one paints a good mug of beer like Manet. It’s as if he’s anticipating drinking it as he creates it. Equally, no one uses color quite in the same way, either. If you don’t know his paintings by the hands, you’ll know them by the way he places colors adjacent to one another. He evidences his joy in flowers by the care he takes in drawing them. His palette makes flowers look even more beautiful than they do in real life. It’s the work of someone who knows he’s dying and wants to gather to himself all of the beauty and color he will have to leave behind.

The editors of the book thank Juliet Wilson-Bureau, and with good reason: her extensive Manet scholarship is deeply felt in the exhibit. Essay authors and contributors to the collection include Carol Armstrong, Helen Burnham, Leah Lehmbeck, Devi Ormond, Douglas MacLennan, Nathan Daly, Catherine Schmidt Patterson, Bridget Alsdorf, Jamie Kwan, and Samuel Rodary. They write on topics as varied as Manet and the Salon to the materials he used, a fascinatingly deep dive. His “little nothings” are the subject of Armstrong’s essay, lending weight to something Manet himself pretended to dismiss.

The essays are engaging and necessary reading for the exhibit goer (preferably devoured before attending the show and again after), and perhaps even more necessary for those who cannot attend. For Manet aficionados, this book will both whet your appetite to see the paintings and to study him more in-depth than ever before. What the authors spark is a hunger for examining the paintings for oneself.

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Plum Brandy

This volume will satisfy the curiosity of the most avid fan. It delves into the provenance of every painting. It depicts his “scribbles” on envelopes and his attempts at painting tambourine skins. It reprints correspondence to and from Manet about his paintings. As a souvenir, an exhibit guidebook, and a textbook, Manet and Modern Beauty is one for the art lover’s library.

An important note for would-be viewers: a few of the paintings are not going to be shown at both the Art Institute in Chicago and the J. Paul Getty Museum in L.A., (the two museums which will host the show), so consult the book to know if your favorite will be at the museum where you will attend the show.

Julie Brickman’s Two Deserts

Julie Brickman’s Two Deserts draws us into exotic worlds — both foreign and domestic —  that slowly reveal to us the unacknowledged and unknown layers of life in and around us all.

Brickman’s well-crafted stories expand exponentially with their deft movement, bittersweet insights, and unexpected humor. The book’s titles are often darkly humorous and always intriguing:”The Cop, the Hooker, and the Ridealong,” “Supermax,” and “The Dying Husbands Dinner Club” all live up to their titles.

One of the bravest stories is “Gear of a Marriage,” which consists of five pages of nothing but lists, starting with “Hiking boots, 2 pair,” and ending with, well, I won’t say what, but illness is involved. It’s the single most devastating story in the collection, its spare prose and unique form perfectly wringing from us an intense emotional reaction using matter-of-fact language.

Brickman explores various points of view as well: first, third, and the underrepresented second.  She’s not afraid to explore those vast deserts.

That Brickman has also been a psychologist benefits the reader as she zooms in and out of minds and psyches, of hearts and emotions. This is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure collection for adults, although a more apt name might be “What Would You Do?” Constantly putting her characters into impossibly difficult situations, Brickman keeps us curious, longing, wondering. No matter in which desert we find ourselves, we find an oasis in this collection.

Nowhere is this better represented than in “The Cop, the Hooker, and the Ridealong,” where a psychiatrist muses “The end of subjectivity was the end of the only kind of truth that could steer a life, truth rooted in self-discovery, the stark naked truth generated by the guts.” This beautiful, deep sentence sums up this tender collection.

Smart, brave and true collections such as this one don’t come along often enough, and they certainly don’t get the attention they deserve sometimes because they are smart, brave, and true.  These stories certainly are.