You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
In this famous painting, Manet showed a different aspect of realism from that envisaged by Courbet, his intention being to translate an Old Master theme, the reclining nude of Giorgione and Titian, into contemporary terms. It is possible also to find a strong reminiscence of the classicism of Ingres in the beautiful precision with which the figure is drawn, though if he taught to placate public and critical opinion by these references to tradition, the storm of anger the work provoked at the Salon of 1865 was sufficient disillusionment. There is a subtlety of modelling in the figure and a delicacy of distinction between the light flesh tones and the white draperies of the couch that his assailants were incapable of seeing.
The sharpness of contrast also between model and foreground items and dark background, which added a modern vivacity to the Venetian-type subject, was regarded with obtuse suspicion as an intended parody. The new life of paint and method of treatment in this and the other works by Manet that aroused the fury of his contemporaries had a stimulus to give to the young artists who were eventually to be known as Impressionists. In a more general sense, they rallied to his support as one heroically opposed to ignorant prejudice and their own ideas took shape in the heat of the controversy.
In 1863, Manet shocked the French public by exhibiting his Déjeuner sur l’herbe Luncheon on the Grass] It is not a realist painting in the social or political sense of Daumier, but it is a statement in favor of the artist’s individual freedom. The shock value of a nude woman casually lunching with two fully dressed men, which was an affront to the propriety of the time, was accentuated by the familiarity of the figures. Manet’s wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, and his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, both posed for the nude woman, which has Meurent’s face, but Leenhoff’s plumper body. Her body is starkly lit and she stares directly at the viewer. The two men are Manet’s brother Gustave Manet and his future brother-in-law, Ferdinand Leenhoff. They are dressed like young dandies. The men 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: in fact, the lighting of the scene is inconsistent and unnatural. The man on the right wears a flat hat with a tassel, of a kind normally worn indoors.