Delacroix, Manet, and Photography

Eugène Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1862–1863 (Musée d'Orsay)
Eugène Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1862–1863 (Musée d'Orsay)

Alexi Worth examines the link between Delacroix's observations on photography and the paintings of Manet.

Worth writes: "It’s clear that Delacroix loved the new technology’s dazzling naturalism, but not its overabundant detail. Again and again he mentions simplicity—a key term for Delacroix—as a quality good photographs lacked. There was something disagreeable about their 'all the tiles on a roof' busyness, their lack of selectivity... Imagine yourself as an ambitious young Parisian artist in the 1850s... Judging by Delacroix’s own writings, the answer is clear: you would start from imperfect or faulty photographs. You would strip away overabundant detail. Your execution would be selective and uneven. In some areas, you might follow photographic proportions; in others you might be tolerant of incorrectness. In 1863, in the very year that Delacroix died, the Parisian public singled out a painting that embodied exactly these qualities, a painting whose imagery recalls, with strange specificity, the story of Delacroix’s experiment. It’s odd that this painting, Edouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, which has tested our ingenuity for 150 years, has never been linked to Delacroix’s journal account."