Developed over centuries the corrida or bullfight is synonymous with Spain. More than the combination of contest and high drama, the bullfight contains elements of ritual, spectacle and, above all, pageantry. The enthralling and emotionally engaging aspects of the battle occupied the minds of native-born artists and foreign painters alike. Manet would only make the pilgrimage to Spain once, in 1865, though he completed more than a dozen works featuring Spanish subjects in the early 1860s, including Jeune homme en costume de toreador. For inspiration for these early works Manet relied heavily upon the Spanish paintings in French institutions, Spanish dancers and musicians performing in and around Paris, an assortment of Spanish costumes he acquired for his studio, and a series of prints from various publications. Jeune homme en costume de toreador is derived from a lithograph by the French painter and curator of prints and drawings at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Achille Devéria, which appeared in L’Almanach d’Andalousie, published in 1836; it has been speculated by scholars that Manet also adapted some early sketches for his controversial painting Olympia from the poses found in Devéria’s lithographic studies. While Devéria and Manet’s versions share noticeable compositional similarities, the present work reflects Manet’s keen visual sensitivity and manual dexterity where the artist enlisted subtle changes in the depiction of the toreador. The figure, removed from the bullring, has become a spectacle of costume, executed with vivid swathes of flat color outlined in black that brings an undeniable freshness to the work. Interestingly Manet never painted the dramatic and violent climax of the corrida, as native-born Spanish painter Picasso often chose to illustrate. Instead Manet chose to focus on the spectacle of color, gesture and the romantic vision of the toreador himself.
As discussed by Juliet Bareau-Wilson “The impact of Velázquez on the art of Édouard Manet was profound." Velázquez was, according to Manet "a painter’s painter," and Manet was influenced in both his style and subject-matter from “the beginning of the 1860s by what he saw as the master’s bold and simple handling of clean, colorful pigments and by his way of placing figures on a canvas” (J. Wilson-Bareau in Manet/Velázquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting (exhibition catalogue), Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 2003, p. 203). Primarily impressed by the Spanish master’s atmospheric effects, vivid brushwork and use of an undefined spatial setting, Manet would adopt these tools with greater dedication following his trip to Spain in 1865. Upon his return to Paris, Manet would write to the poet Baudelaire: “At last, my dear Baudelaire, I’ve really come to know Velásquez and I tell you he’s the greatest artist there has ever been; I saw thirty or forty of his canvases in Madrid, portraits and other things, all masterpieces” (quoted in ibid., p. 231). Manet’s subsequent paintings of Spanish subjects following the 1865 trip reflect his continued admiration for seventeenth-century Spanish painting and the influence of the collective hispanophilia of the early nineteenth century on his artistic production.
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