Édouard Manet’s paintings against French colonialism in Mexico

Manet, Execution of Maximilian

From the New York Times:

What happens when a powerful country with imperial ambitions forces its way at gunpoint into the affairs of another, distant country, of which it has no cultural knowledge, on the pretext of bringing enlightened governance?

And that country meets the encroachment with violent resistance? You get disaster.

And what happens when art responds quickly and critically to that disaster?

You get the paintings in “Manet and the Execution of Maximilian,” a small, taut historical show that puts the Museum of Modern Art back on the experimental, heterodox track that it began to explore six years ago in its “MoMA2000” project, and then all but abandoned.

In a New York fall art season given over to mild Modernist pleasures, this show, which opens on Sunday, is a reminder of Modernism’s mutinous, myth-scouring origins.

It achieves this by bringing one of art’s great guerrilla path-cutters, Édouard Manet, onto the scene, wry, infuriated, ambitious, and painting like Lucifer.

Not that there’s a lot of him here: eight paintings, three (and an oil sketch) on a single theme: the death by firing squad of the Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian in Mexico in 1867.

But it’s enough. Manet’s images are electrifying. For him, painting was thinking, and his thoughts shoot out in bold, impetuous strokes, ricocheting off multiple targets.

One of his targets was the conservative French emperor Napoleon III.

In the mid-19th-century this ruler, ravenous for new territory, had his eye on Mexico.

When a reformist government under Benito Juárez came to power in the country, a privileged minority of landowners and clergy appealed to France for help, and Napoleon (counting on the United States being distracted by the Civil War) sent his army their way in 1862.

The initial invasion, under the pretext of collecting debts owed by Mexico, resulted in a mortifying French defeat, now celebrated by Mexicans as Cinco de Mayo.

To provide a cover for a second one, Napoleon persuaded Maximilian, the idealistic younger brother of the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph, to become emperor of Mexico, backed by the French military.

Maximilian, who knew nothing in particular about Mexico, accepted the offer with a missionary zeal, giving Napoleon both a colony and a Hapsburg alliance.

But problems instantly arose. The new emperor arrived in 1864 and was led to believe by Mexican monarchists that he would be embraced.

He wasn’t. Popular support was for Juárez, pushed north by the French but poised to return.

See also here.

1848 US-Mexican war: here.

VR Main: rewriting the history of Manet’s favourite model, Victorine Meurent: here.

Manet show at Royal Academy bridges the gaps on father of modern art: here.’

THOUGH many Parisians are unaware of it, the large esplanade in front of the Gare du Nord has been known since 1987 as the Place Napoleon III. Very logically, his rehabilitation began in that decade, when neoliberalism became unquestioned dogma. The shady adventurer, gang leader and author of the December massacre underwent a surreptitious mutation into the Saint-Simonian philanthropist, a pioneer of the modern banking and industrial system: here.

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13 thoughts on “Édouard Manet’s paintings against French colonialism in Mexico

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