The Croquet Party (La partie de croquet)
Oil on canvas
Inv. No. 1476 (Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.)
73 × 106 cm
A game of croquet – the only sport men and women were permitted to practise together in those days – is in progress in the garden of the Belgian artist Alfred Stevens. Manet has spontaneously exchanged his mallet for a paintbrush in order to capture the scene. It is 1873, the year in which he first tries out painting by natural light in the open air. The scene is programmatic: the painters and their models have left the studio to move about without constraint in a natural environment. Affected poses by candlelight have been replaced by the warmth of scenes from everyday life. The artist trusts his subjective feelings: no longer is the concern with staging eternal truths, for nothing is as ephemeral as a game, nothing as transient as a sunny afternoon. And nothing is as changeable as a garden. This was the setting that served all of the Impressionist painters as an opening and extension of the studio, a source of inspiration, a giver of light, a paradisiacal place where art and life join in creative unity. Manet must have sensed the symbolic power and intimacy of this work as well: he kept it near him, in his studio, until his death.
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