Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe

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The Luncheon on the Grass
French: Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
Edouard Manet - Luncheon on the Grass - Google Art Project.jpg
Artist Édouard Manet
Year 1862–1863
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 208 cm × 265.5 cm (81.9 in × 104.5 in)
Location Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (English: The Luncheon on the Grass) – originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) – is a large oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet created in 1862 and 1863. The painting depicts a female nude and a scantily dressed female bather on a picnic with two fully dressed men in a rural setting. Rejected by the Salon jury of 1863, Manet seized the opportunity to exhibit this and two other paintings in the 1863 Salon des Refusés[1] where the painting sparked public notoriety and controversy. The piece is now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.[2] A smaller, earlier version can be seen at the Courtauld Gallery, London.[3]

Description and context[edit]

The painting features a nude woman casually lunching with two fully dressed men. Her body is starkly lit and she stares directly at the viewer. The two men, dressed as young dandies, seem to be engaged in conversation, ignoring the woman. In front of them, the woman's clothes, a basket of fruit, and a round loaf of bread are displayed, as in a still life. In the background a lightly clad woman bathes in a stream. Too large in comparison with the figures in the foreground, she seems to float above them. The roughly painted background lacks depth – giving the viewer the impression that the scene is not taking place outdoors, but in a studio. This impression is reinforced by the use of broad "photographic" light, which casts almost no shadows. The man on the right wears a flat hat with a tassel, of a kind normally worn indoors.

Despite the mundane subject, Manet deliberately chose a large canvas size, normally reserved for historical subjects. The style of the painting breaks with the academic traditions of the time. He did not try to hide the brush strokes; the painting even looks unfinished in some parts of the scene. The nude is also starkly different from the smooth, flawless figures of Cabanel or Ingres.

A nude woman casually lunching with fully dressed men was an affront to audiences' sense of propriety, though Émile Zola, a contemporary of Manet's, argued that this was not uncommon in paintings found in the Louvre; he also felt that such a reaction came from viewing art differently than "analytic" painters like Manet, who use a painting's subject as a pretext to paint.

The figures were modeled after people Manet knew. His wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, and his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, both posed for the nude woman, who has Meurent's face, but Leenhoff's plumper body.[citation needed] The two men are Manet's brother Gustave Manet and his future brother-in-law, Ferdinand Leenhoff.[4]

Commentary of Émile Zola[edit]

The Luncheon on the Grass is the greatest work of Édouard Manet, one in which he realizes the dream of all painters: to place figures of natural grandeur in a landscape. We know the power with which he vanquished this difficulty. There are some leaves, some tree trunks, and, in the background, a river in which a chemise-wearing woman bathes; in the foreground, two young men are seated across from a second woman who has just exited the water and who dries her naked skin in the open air. This nude woman has scandalized the public, who see only her in the canvas. My God! What indecency: a woman without the slightest covering between two clothed men! That has never been seen. And this belief is a gross error, for in the Louvre there are more than fifty paintings in which are found mixes of persons clothed and nude. But no one goes to the Louvre to be scandalized. The crowd has kept itself moreover from judging The Luncheon on the Grass like a veritable work of art should be judged; they see in it only some people who are having a picnic, finishing bathing, and they believed that the artist had placed an obscene intent in the disposition of the subject, while the artist had simply sought to obtain vibrant oppositions and a straightforward audience. Painters, especially Édouard Manet, who is an analytic painter, do not have this preoccupation with the subject which torments the crowd above all; the subject, for them, is merely a pretext to paint, while for the crowd, the subject alone exists. Thus, assuredly, the nude woman of The Luncheon on the Grass is only there to furnish the artist the occasion to paint a bit of flesh. That which must be seen in the painting is not a luncheon on the grass; it is the entire landscape, with its vigors and its finesses, with its foregrounds so large, so solid, and its backgrounds of a light delicateness; it is this firm modeled flesh under great spots of light, these tissues supple and strong, and particularly this delicious silhouette of a woman wearing a chemise who makes, in the background, an adorable dapple of white in the milieu of green leaves. It is, in short, this vast ensemble, full of atmosphere, this corner of nature rendered with a simplicity so just, all of this admirable page in which an artist has placed all the particular and rare elements which are in him.[5] [6]

Zola presents a fictionalised version of the painting and the controversy surrounding it in his novel L'Œuvre (The Masterpiece).


As with the later Olympia (1863), and other works, Manet's composition reveals his study of the old masters, as the disposition of the main figures is derived from Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving The Judgement of Paris (c. 1515) after a drawing by Raphael.[7] Raphael was an artist revered by the conservative members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and his paintings were part of the teaching programme at the École des Beaux-Arts, where copies of fifty-two images from his most celebrated frescoes were permanently on display. "Le Bain was therefore [-] in many ways, a defiant painting [-]Manet was cheekily reworking Raphael, turning a mythological scene from one of the most celebrated engravings of the Renaissance into a tableau of somewhat vulgar Parisian holidaymakers."[8]

Scholars also cite two works as important precedents for Manet's painting Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, The Pastoral Concert, 1508, by Giorgione or possibly Titian (in the Louvre) and Giorgione's The Tempest, both of which are famous Renaissance paintings.[9] The Tempest, which also features a fully dressed man and a nude woman in a rural setting, offers an important precedent for Manet's painting Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe.[10] The painting Pastoral Concert even more closely resembles Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, as it features two dressed men seated in a rural setting, with two undressed women. Pastoral Concert is in the collection of the Louvre in Paris and is likely, therefore, to have been studied by Manet.


Odilon Redon, for example, did not like it. There is a discussion of it, from this point of view, in Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.

One interpretation of the work is that it depicts the rampant prostitution that occurred in the Bois de Boulogne, a large park at the western outskirts of Paris, at the time. This prostitution was common knowledge in Paris, but was considered a taboo subject unsuitable for a painting.[11] Indeed, the Bois de Boulogne is to this day known as a pick-up place for prostitutes and illicit sexual activity after dark, just as it had been in the 19th century.

Works inspired by Déjeuner[edit]

Claude Monet, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1865-1866, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
James Tissot, La Partie Carrée, 1870
  • In L'Oeuvre, Émile Zola's novel about a painter, a work by his main character, Claude Lantier, exhibited in a fictional salon des refusés, resembles Manet's painting.
  • Claude Monet's own version of Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe from 1865–1866, was inspired by Manet's masterpiece.
  • French painter James Tissot, painted La Partie Carrée, in 1870; arguably a tamer version without the nudity of Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe.
  • Paul Cézanne painted the same theme in his Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1876-1877), Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris. It is not certain, however, that Cézanne was responsible for the title of the work. The composition of Cézanne's painting also bears resemblance to Bacchanal (between 1627 and 1628), by Nicolas Poussin, whose works in the Louvre were periodically copied by Cézanne. It is possible that Cézanne's Déjeuner represents nothing more than the joyful memories of outings in the countryside around Aix-en-Provence, known especially from the testimony of a childhood friend of the painter, Émile Zola.[12]
  • Manet's painting inspired Picasso to a cycle of 27 paintings, 140 drawings, 3 linogravures and cardboard marquettes for sculpture carried out between 1949 and 1962.[13]
  • Déjeuner also inspired the 1959 film by Jean Renoir, the cover of the Bow Wow Wow LP See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy and EP The Last of the Mohicans, which caused additional controversy since the naked girl (lead singer Annabella Lwin) was only 14 at the time.


  1. ^ Boime, Albert (2007). Art in an Age of Civil Struggle. Los Angeles: The University of Chicago Press. p. 676. ISBN 978-0-226-06328-7. 
  2. ^ Musée d'Orsay, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass)
  3. ^ Details at www.artandarchitecture.co.uk
  4. ^ Ross King, The Judgement of Paris, p.39
  5. ^ Émile Zola, Édouard Manet, 1867, et lps 91
  6. ^ Émile Zola, Édouard Manet, 1867, link to English translation
  7. ^ Ross King. The Judgement of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism. New York: Waller & Company, 2006 ISBN 0-8027-1466-8.
  8. ^ Ross King, p.41
  9. ^ Paul Hayes Tucker, Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp.12-14. ISBN 0-521-47466-3.
  10. ^ John Rewald,The History of Impressionism, The Museum of Modern Art, 4th revised edition 1973, (1st 1946, 2nd 1955, 3rd 1961), p.85. ISBN 0-87070-369-2.
  11. ^ Peter J. Gartner, Art and Architecture: Musee D'Orsay, 2001, p.180. ISBN 0-7607-2889-5.
  12. ^ Paul Cézanne, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (1876-1877), Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
  13. ^ Picasso: Challenging the past National Gallery exhibition book, p. 116

External links[edit]

External video
Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe at Smarthistory.