A Game of Croquet, 1873
With its sketchy manner of execution, the “Game of Croquet” is one of the few paintings by Manet to come this close to the Impressionist style. It depicts a popular, carefree pastime, croquet, and an evidently happy moment although it is by no means as spontaneous a “snapshot” as the mood perhaps suggests. On the contrary, the figures were carefully composed and incorporated into the surrounding space. Every one of them can be identified: they are the artist’s painter colleague Alfred Stevens, his friend Paul Roudier, and the models Alice Lecouvé and Victorine Meurent. The latter was already known to the art world as Manet’s Olympia au naturel and as the nude in his scandal-causing “Déjeuner sur l’herbe”. In the “Game of Croquet”, however, she adheres to the bourgeois fashion of the tightly laced corset and multi-layered skirt – while the men make an emphatically casual impression during the game.
Perhaps this painting can also be interpreted as a subtle protest against bourgeois notions of propriety, which do not permit the slightest gender equality even in the framework of an informal social gathering.