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The execution of Emperor Maximilian I

Edouard Manet • Painting, 1868, 252×305 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Genre scene
Style of art: Realism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1868
Size: 252×305 cm
Region: Mannheim
Artwork in selections: 60 selections

Description of the artwork «The execution of Emperor Maximilian I»

Edouard Manet held a clear civic position and was an ardent political debater. During the Franco-Prussian War, for example, he remains in besieged Paris, volunteers to defend him, and in the evenings, hungry, sick, and exhausted, he is hard pressed to hear the news of the death of friends, misses separation from his wife, and has fierce disputes with Edgar Degas. As a result, they agree that they do not forgive Zola’s flight from Paris, they reconcile.

But this will be already in 1870, when the war will put an end to the rule of Napoleon III, and Edouard Manet will bring to a nervous breakdown. And a few years before, Manet-French’s dissatisfaction with the rule of the emperor would break through only in one tense, politically charged picture. "The shooting of Emperor Maximilian" was doomed - you can’t send such a picture to the Salon and you won’t even show it at your own exhibition. It was banned - and until the death of Manet, the canvas was not seen by anyone except the artist’s close friends.

Here you can not do without a background. "Shooting" is a quick, bold, and very concrete reaction to one of Napoleon III’s most shameful campaigns: the conceited conquest of Mexico, the political coup, and the shameful flight of the French army from this overseas country. Napoleon wanted to crank up something like the Egyptian campaign of his famous relative, and at the same time get closer to America. The French army overthrew the local ruler of Mexico and sat down to rule here the puppet of Napoleon III, Emperor Maximilian. Everything would be fine, the story is not original and not new, but only the French did not have enough for a long time: it turned out to be expensive and completely illogical to maintain an army in Mexico. The army was returned home, and the emperor Maximilian was left to deal with the Mexicans.

When the Mexicans shot the stranger Maximilian and the French newspapers reported this, Edouard Manet conceived a new picture, his only masterpiece based on a historical event. Mane's passionate researcher and one of the best contemporary British art critics Waldemar JanuschakHe speaks: “In the history of modern art there are only two paintings on which events of the time are captured with sufficient strength and effect: "Guernica"Picasso and the "Shooting" Manet ". Mana was able not only to talk about the event, but to engage the viewer in it.

Mane builds a blank gray wall in the background only in the third version of the picture (in the first versions-sketches, the shooting group stretched a dry, laconic landscape), the soldiers, too, were first dressed in sombrero and looked quite like Mexicans. Then, having dressed the soldiers in French uniforms, Manet will challenge and accuse the French of complicity, and the French emperor of murder. His features were to be recognized by contemporaries in the person of the soldier who was preparing the gun for the final shot at point blank range. It is he, Napoleon III, the murderer of Maximilian.

But besides the onlookers watching the execution behind the fence, there is another observer in the picture who was nearby and did nothing to interfere. It is you. It is you who cast a shadow at the bottom of the picture and calmly observe the execution of Emperor Maximilian. Each of us.

Author: Anna Sidelnikova