Women fascinated Manet, women of all kinds. Racy or respectable, Manet painted them in what was, for the time, bold realism. At the heart of this exhibition is the Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus. Fanny Claus was a close friend of Manet’s wife, nineteen years old and a talented violinist. At the time respectable young women, no matter how talented, were not expected to be professional musicians but Fanny ignored this convention and had a career. We see her sat on a balcony, dressed in white staring out but not at us. The Ashmolean Museum at Oxford has just purchased Madame Claus for £2.83 million with the help of the Art Fund and has lent her to Norwich Castle Museum.
Manet’s realistic approach to portraiture shocked early nineteenth century Paris and he struggled for his work to be shown at the all-important Salon, but served as an inspiration to the group of painters that were to become known as the Impressionists. The exhibition at Norwich explores that influence, especially through the depiction of girls in white dresses. Where Manet led with Mademoiselle Claus, Monet, Singer Sargent and Sickert were to follow.
Manet is generally held to have heralded the modern age of art. Not only did the depiction of women become more realistic, women painters began to have more confidence and emerge in their own right. We see work by Vanessa Bell and Gwen John. The star of the whole show is, for me, the final work we see. It is a self-portrait by the first female member of the Royal Academy, Laura Knight: the whole picture seems to glow and you feel that you want to reach out and stroke her coat so vibrant is it.
Norwich is a fine City and has many fine eating places. On this occasion my Mother and I had a delicious lunch of quiche and soup in the Castle Museum’s own café. If you have time to linger in the City then head up St Giles for a waffle at the Waffle House, where I like to have a small plain waffle and then fill every hole with maple syrup.
HOMAGE TO MANET: 31 January – 19 April 2015
Admission: Adult: £7.95, Concession (over 65s): £6.50, Child (age 4 – 18): £5.20
Open: Monday – Saturday: 10am – 4.30pm, Sunday: 1pm – 4.30pm