An exceptional painting by Edouard Manet at auction!

The Impressionist and Modern Art Department will present a painting by Édouard Manet entitled Moses Saved from the Waters at its next Evening Sale on November 23.


EDOUARD MANET - "Moses Saved from the Waters" - Oil on canvas - 51 x 61 cm - Undated - Estimate: 500 000 €. Provenance : Private collection

This painting of a religious subject is, like the Nymphe surprise, an artwork that bridges the gap between the copies of old masters of the 1850s and the major paintings he produced from 1862 onwards.

Édouard Manet. Nymphe Surprise, oil on canvas, 1859-61, signed and dated lower left. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires.

"No one as a painter has studied more than Manet, to make himself master of the craft."

This is how Théodore Duret defines Manet in his book Histoire d’Édouard Manet. After failing his entrance exam to the navy, and with the support of his parents, Edouard Manet began his training as a painter by joining the studio of the famous portraitist and history painter, Thomas Couture, in 1850. The relationship between the master and the pupil was a long series of clashes and quarrels due to their artistic differences. The master defended an art made of traditions, where the only subjects worthy of art were the scenes of antiquity; while the student preferred realistic subjects representing the men of his time with their frock coats and their usual clothes. In 1856, the two men had another argument, but this time the outcome was irreversible; Manet left the studio and the two men would not see each other again.

By leaving Thomas Couture’s studio, Manet did not abandon his desire to enter the Salons; on the contrary, he wished to continue to enrich and train himself. “Before entering the Salons, I must,” he said, “go and lay my card down with the great ancestors.” (A. Proust, Edouard Manet, Souvenirs, Paris: L’échoppe, reprint 2014, p. 88).

It was in this process of researching the great masters that Manet embarked on a series of trips that would mark his work. Following in the footsteps of eighteenth-century models such as Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) or Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842), Manet undertook his own Grand Tour and pictorial education. The self-portrait of Filippino Lippi, which Manet reproduced in 1858 in a very touching adaptation, now in the Musée d’Orsay, is admired at the Uffizi in Florence. Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson (1606-1669), which amazed him in The Hague, also impressed him, so he made a personal version. Manet made a whole trip to Central Europe and Spain. The conclusion is clear, and of all these great painters, it is Velázquez that Manet declares to be “the greatest painter there ever was”, in a letter to Baudelaire, in 1865.

“He traveled to Holland, Italy and Spain. In Spain, when he encountered Velazquez’s preoccupaton with the simplicity of the drawing and the transparency of the coloring, he felt happy like a man who finds himself among his own people, after an exploration in a country where his language is unknown. He did not deny the influence that Velazquez had on him, he admited to it. The conscientious sincerity of the Italian Primitives moved him, and the boldness of Franz Hals’s firm stances made such an impression on him in Holland that when he returned to Paris, armed with all these memories, he decided to approach the various aspects of Parisian life frankly. Manet’s life is, in this respect, a great example of loyalty. From 1858 to 1860, he made a series of studies, L’Étudiant de Salamanque (The Student of Salamanca), Moïse sauvé des eaux (Moses Saved from the Waters,) La Toilette (Woman at Her Toilet), La Promenade (The Walk), noting simply on the back of these studies what he had learned from the masters he admired.”

A. Proust, Edouard Manet, Souvenirs, Paris : L’échoppe, reedition 2014, p. 88 – 89

The painting presented here was probably painted during the period from 1856 to 1860. Indeed, in Antonin Proust’s memories, we know that Manet had, at that time, begun to paint “a large painting” whose subject was Moses saved from the waters.

Edouard Manet, Study for the Nymphe surprise, 1861.

“At Rue Lavoisier, Manet had begun a large painting, Moïse sauvé des eaux, that he never finished, and of which only a figure remains. He cut this out of the canvas and entitled it La nymphe surprise."

A. Proust, Édouard Manet, Souvenirs, Paris : L’échoppe, reedition 2014, p. 25

In the piece we are honored to present, one can still feel the hand of Couture’s workshop; especially by the choice of the biblical subject. There are, in this respect, a dozen works that take up classical themes, which may be surprising for one of the leaders of Impressionism. The filial bond depicted here in a soft and precious way echoes the representations of motherhood by Raphael (1483-1520), who humanizes the infant Jesus. In contrast to the porcelain skin of Pharaoh’s daughter, the background is very dark, in homage to Velázquez. This choice allows us to focus on the two characters, and their mythological destiny. The fact that the work is not finished is due to the historical aspect of the piece; we enter into the very conception of a painting, which makes the painting even more important for its contribution to the understanding of Manet’s work.

Moses Saved from the Waters is, like the Nymphe surprise, kept at the Museo Nacio de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, a work that bridges the gap between the copies of old masters of the 1850s and the major paintings he produced from 1862 onwards.

In these two paintings, Manet put into practice his teachings, and the serpentine form of the models, typical of the Renaissance, is found, as well as mythological or biblical inspirations. It is highly probable that the consultation of the Cabinet des estampes of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which has just reopened to the public, opened up this repertoire for Manet to exploit. La Nymphe surprise is intrinsically linked to our painting, as Antonin Proust asserts that this work was originally conceived as a large painting representing Moses saved from the waters, then cut out by the artist to keep only the naked figure in the foreground, which he called Nymphe surprise. This assertion has been supported by the study of the sketch, which is kept in the National Gallery in Oslo. The same stylistic technique can be found in this work, mainly in the treatment of the hand. Also in this composition, the servant girl standing behind the nymph reminds us of our female figure.

Left - Edouard Manet, Woman and Child, graphite (Musée d'Orsay) | Right - Edouard Manet, Moses abandoned on the Nile, c.1858-60

Two sketches in the Musée d’Orsay and the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum (Rotterdam) respectively, confirm the artist’s interest in this subject. It is especially the second sketch, entitled Moses Abandoned on the Nile, that intrigues us, since the female figure is similar to the one in our composition. This time, in contrast to the Nymph Surprise, Manet seems to want to depict the servant girl and not Pharaoh’s daughter. Stylistically, the hairstyle and clothing are similar. This second sketch can be compared to an engraving by Pierre-Alexandre Aveline, after a painting by Bonifazio de Pitati, kept at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. It is very likely that the artist was aware of this painting or of a copy made by Fantin-Latour, who was his friend and close collaborator.

Our painting remains the closest to the subject that he had wished to represent on Rue Lavoisier, because when he cut out La Nymphe surprise, Manet had given up representing this subject. Although we are certain that our painting is unfinished, we wonder whether it is an independent work or another fragment of this great painting?

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Modern and Contemporary Art | Evening sale
Wednesday 23rd November at 7pm

Modern and Contemporary Art | Day sale
Thursday 24th November at 3pm