Around 200 paintings, pastels, drawings, engravings, monotypes, letters and notebooks from the Orsay collections but also from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, co-organizer of the exhibition, and the National Gallery in London are brought together throughout a thematic and chronological journey.

Cafés, intellectual circles of Parisian life, war, women: it reveals what brought together or opposed these two personalities at the antipodes, yet so close in their artistic ambition, marked by the relationship with history and old masters.

"Social play" versus "intimate"

"Everything is played around the question of truth and realism, depending on whether we are on the side of Manet and the social game or Degas and the intimate," she adds, describing the dialogue between the two painters as "founder of the new painting of the years 1860-1880 or modernity in painting".

Both come from wealthy bourgeois families, both will leave the law to marry the artistic vocation. They will exhibit relatively late at the "Salon", a place of discovery of contemporary painting of the time.

What brings them together first is "the desire to bring the modern world into painting, regardless of the conventions of the time," says Stéphane Guégan, scientific advisor at Orsay.

Isolde Pludermacher, general curator of painting at the Musée d'Orsay, evokes a "striking imbalance" when they met at the Louvre in the 1860s, a time when Manet "shone on the artistic scene" with his two successes and scandals: "Le déjeuner sur l'herbe" (a and two men in full during a country lunch) and "Olympia" (prostitute represented as divinity, nude and in large format, inspired by Titian).

The exhibition "Manet/Degas" is held from March 28 to July 23, 2023 at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris © Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP


The painter, two years older than Degas, will not follow him in the impressionist adventure in the early 1870s, even though all his painting expresses what this movement will be.

A great admirer of Manet, Degas made many portraits of him. The reverse is not true. One of them represents the painter listening to his wife at the piano but, furious at the representation of his wife, Manet will tear the canvas, says Mrs. Pludermacher.

Later, recognizing Degas' "progress" and talent, Manet invited him to accompany him to England where he saw artistic opportunities for both his friend and himself.

The paintings "Portrait of Emile Zola" by painter Edouard Manet (l) and "Portrait of the painter James Tissot" by Edgar Degas, March 24, 2023 at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris © Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Portraits, beach scenes, horse races, women with birds, dead men... Several series of paintings reflect particularly well the complementarity of the two styles and imaginaries, as if a third reality was born from the comparison of the two painters in the eye of the spectator: "color and light take precedence in Manet over drawing and contour, he challenges the viewer, while in Degas everything aspires to us," says Mr. Guégan.

The exhibition ends with a little-known and fragmented work by Manet, exhibited at the National Gallery in London: "The execution of Maximilian" from Mexico, four successive paintings inspired by the current events of the time but which, considered too subversive, will never be exhibited during the painter's lifetime.

Remaining in his studio after Manet's death, they were only seen by a few relatives. Degas will acquire some fragments of the second, like many other works of the artist throughout his life.

© 2023 AFP