Manet developed a fascination with Spanish culture and art, which was made possible by the recent dispersion of Spanish paintings in France. King Louis-Phillipe bought a large number of Spanish artworks for his Galerie Espagnole in Paris, and following his death in 1850, its contents were dispersed to various collections around the capitals of Europe. Thus, Manet had the opportunity to study the Spanish masters in French museums. He was struck by the works of the Spanish artists he saw in the museums. 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 30 or 40 of his canvases in Madrid, portrait and other things, all masterpieces’ (quoted in Manet/Velázquez, The French Taste for Spanish Painting, (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2003, p. 231)
Manet would visit Spain only once, in 1865, and his subsequent paintings of bullfighting reflect his continuous admiration for seventeenth-century Spanish painting.The bullfight is ‘one of the finest, strangest and most fearful spectacles to be seen,’ Manet wrote to Baudelaire in 1865. ‘I hope when I return to put on canvas the brilliant, shimmering and at once dramatic aspects of the corrida I attended’ (quoted in Manet (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1983, p. 237).
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