“The Ragpicker”

Edouard Manet, “The Ragpicker” 1865-70, oil on canvas.

Another great work you can go see locally at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena – Manet’s (not to confused with Monet!) large scale representation of a beggar seems like an ordinary portrait until you give it some historical context. An artist known for stirring up trouble, Manet uses the language of the French Salon (the academic standard for how art was to be made) to critique that very entity. Traditionally large scale work was reserved for scenes of important people and important events – Napoleon, Charles the I, great battles, historic moments. So creating a quite large portrait of a beggar man – someone who had ‘no worth’ to society – Manet was questioning the traditions and rules of the art world. Yet at the same time, the Rag Picker is a symbol of freedom; of the characters who lived on their own terms, unrestricted by the rules of society – so this is actually a quite romanticized image! (Original post to Instagram November 16, 2012.)

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