There are similarities with the Pastoral Concert from 1510 and the Tempest 1508, paintings that have been attributed to both Giorgione and Titian. These earlier pictures, both of which feature a naked woman or two, sitting on grass with a well-dressed man or two, looking on, have an innocent air about them. They hark back to biblical and mythical stories and give no overt hint of sexual innuendo.
Manet’s plan was to take these classical allegories and compositions, and refresh them by adding a contemporary twist. With this in mind he brought the three principal characters within his composition, two handsome young man and a pretty woman of similar age, right up-to-date by making the central narrative idea of bourgeois picnic in the park.
His two males sitters look splendid. Dressed to the nines in fashionable clothes, their handsome coats and ties set off by well tailored trousers and sombre shoes.
The young woman is wearing nothing. Not a stitch.
Manet might just about of got away with this tale of two well-dressed men out for a spot of something tasty with a naked young lady, had the scene been wrapped within a mythologise narrative, as was the case with those early Renaissance paintings
But Manet hadn’t done that. He’d painted those within his circle, recognisable hipsters who belonged to his fashionable Parisian set. The puritanical Academy were disgusted.
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.