EDOUARD MANET (1832-1883)
EDOUARD MANET (1832-1883)
EDOUARD MANET (1832-1883)
3 More
The Artistic Journey – A Distinguished West Coast Collection
EDOUARD MANET (1832-1883)

Le bal de l'Opéra

EDOUARD MANET (1832-1883)
Le bal de l'Opéra
signed 'Manet.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
14 1/2 x 11 1/8 in. (36.7 x 28.2 cm.)
Painted in 1873
Estate of the artist.
Cherfils, Paris (until circa 1892).
Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
Leo and Gertrude Stein, Paris (probably acquired from the above, by February 1909).
Gertrude Stein, Paris (acquired from Leo Stein, circa 1914-1915).
Paul Rosenberg, Paris (acquired from the above, 15 October 1919).
Halfdan Mustad, Oslo (by 1929, then by descent until at least 1971).
Private collection, Switzerland.
Private collection, Europe; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 3 December 1996, lot 23.
Acquired by the late owners, 2019.
T. Duret, Histoire d'Edouard Manet et de son oeuvre, Paris, 1902, p. 231, no. 155 (with inverted dimensions).
E. Moreau-Nélaton, Manet raconté par lui-même, Paris, 1926, vol. II, p. 7 (illustrated, fig. 179).
P. Jamot, "L'art français en Norvège" in La Renaissance, no. 2, February 1929, p. 93 (illustrated; titled Etude pour le bal de l'Opéra).
P. Jamot and G. Wildenstein, Manet, Paris, 1932, vol. I, p. 145, no. 217 (illustrated, vol. II, p. 181, fig. 363; titled Esquisse du bal de l'Opéra).
A. Tabarant, Manet et ses oeuvres, Paris, 1947, p. 232, no. 218.
M. Florisoone, Manet, Monaco, 1947, p. 60 (illustrated; titled Etude pour le bal de l'Opéra).
D. Rouart and S. Orienti, L’opera pittorica di Edouard Manet, Milan, 1970, pp. 102-103, no. 189B (illustrated).
D. Rouart and D. Wildenstein, Edouard Manet: Catalogue raisonné, Geneva, 1975, vol. I, p. 180, no. 214 (illustrated, p. 181).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Four Americans in Paris: the Collections of Gertrude Stein and Her Family, December 1970-March 1971, p. 122, pl. 21 (illustrated).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde, May 2011-June 2013, pp. 97, 405 and 460, no. 81 (illustrated in color, p 96, pl. 48).

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

“Imagine… the opera house packed to the rafters, the boxes furnished out with all the pretty showgirls of Paris, the lobby filled with charming ladies in charming costumes,” so Le Figaro described the annual masked ball held in Paris’s Opéra on 1 April, 1873 (quoted in Manet, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1983, p. 349). Every year in the middle of Lent, the venerated institution held this lavish party.
One of the guests to this fashionable event was Edouard Manet, the famed artist-flâneur for whom Second Empire and Third Republic Parisian society offered inexhaustible subject matter with which to challenge and subvert social as well as artistic norms. It seems that Manet made sketches at the ball, which he worked up over a number of months into a final painting, Le bal de l’Opéra (Wildenstein, no. 216; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).
Fervacques, a writer of the day, vividly described the painting in Manet’s studio, bringing to life the stereotypes that the artist captured, many of which would have been familiar to late nineteenth-century audiences: “Between the massive pillars of the amphitheater wall, where the swells stand en espalier… there ebbs and flows a tide of black cloth on which floats an occasional Pierrette or débardeuse. Hooded dominoes, faces screened in fourfold lace, swim about in the human sea, shoved, squeezed and jostled, examined by a hundred curious hands… There they all are, alight with Corton and truffles, with moist lip and sensual eye, with gold chains across their vests and rings set with gems on their fingers. Hats tilted back with an air of conquest: they are rich, that is clear, with pockets full of louis d’or, and they have come to enjoy themselves. Enjoy themselves they would” (quoted in ibid., pp. 349-350).
Formerly in the renowned collection of Leo and Gertrude Stein, the present work, also titled Le bal de l’Opéra, is one of two known oil studies for the final painting; the other is now housed in the Artizon Museum, Ishibashi Foundation, Tokyo (Wildenstein, no. 215). With a flurry of deftly-applied brushstrokes, here Manet has captured the atmosphere of this dazzling social spectacle—the riot of darkly dressed figures crammed together in the Opéra. A single man gazes out of the picture plane, his hands in his pockets as he seems to survey the scene that lies before him, yet which remains unseen by the viewer. In stark contrast to his sleek black suit and luminous white tie, a masked, Pierrot-like figure dressed in white stands behind, this monochromatic contrast a reflection not only of Manet’s deft use of black and white, but of his compositional dexterity. Like the National Gallery’s Le bal de l’Opéra, Manet has similarly thrust the action up to the edge of the picture plane. Instead of picturing the large ball room, he instead chose to show the crowds in a small promenade space behind the boxes. As a result, the viewer is immersed in this social whirl, caught up in this shimmering, costumed world of artifice and revelry.
The masked ball of 1873 was held in the original site of the Opéra on the rue Le Peletier. Later in the year, the building was destroyed in a fire, resulting in this hallowed institution relocating to the newly constructed Palais Garnier, where it remains to this day. Manet was not the only artist of his circle to be drawn to the world of the Opéra. In their pursuit to capture modern life in all its forms, fellow Impressionists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Mary Cassatt had captured scenes of glittering bourgeois life in the boxes of the ballet. By contrast, Edgar Degas, had been drawn both to the dancers themselves, in rehearsals and on stage, as well as to the characters who frequented the maze of back stage dressing rooms, wings, and other shadowy corners of the Opéra, reveling in the hidden relationships, interactions, and narratives that played out. It is perhaps no surprise that Manet was drawn to the spectacle of this opulent ball as a subject for his art. Paris was at this time a city of spectacle, its bourgeoisie driven by a need to “see and be seen.” As a result, many of the city’s entertainment and leisure pursuits, including the ballet, centered around this concept. What better subject therefore than a masked ball for an artist not only dedicated to capturing contemporary society but obsessed by the blurred boundaries between artifice and reality.
A number of Manet’s friends posed for the finished Le bal de l’Opéra in his studio on the rue Guyot. The journalist and staunch advocate of the artist, Théodore Duret, is possibly the tall man in profile on the far left, standing next to the bearded figure said to be modeled by the composer Emmanuel Chabrier (see ibid., pp. 350-351). Manet also included himself as the blond bearded man, second from the far right of the canvas. It appears that he also included a fellow artist in the present Le bal de l’Opéra. According to Gertrude Stein, the legendary writer and patron of early modernism—as well as an early owner of this painting—the male protagonist of the work was the artist Jean-Louis Forain. She described her acquisition of the present work, recalling that she and her brother Leo had found a “small Manet painted in black and white with Forain in the foreground,” at the gallery of the important modern art dealer, Ambroise Vollard (quoted in The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2011, p. 97).
The Californian-born sibling collectors, Leo and Gertrude Stein, probably acquired the present work from Vollard by 1909. The pair had moved to Paris in 1903, and lived in an apartment on the rue de Fleurus. Quickly they began acquiring works by what were then little known artists including Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Leo was also interested in collecting the predecessors of these artists, including Manet. “Manet is the painter par excellence… in sheer power of handling he has perhaps not had his equal in modern times,” he wrote in 1904 (quoted in ibid., p. 97).
The Steins soon became central figures within the avant-garde art world of Paris. Their Salons drew a host of artists as well as writers, including Guillaume Apollinaire, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. Their relationship however came to a dramatic end when Gertrude’s lover, Alice Toklas, moved into their home. Their artistic preferences were also diverging at this time; Leo was retreating to the nineteenth century, while Gertrude was becoming evermore bound to the work of a single artist—Picasso. Leo decided to move out of rue de Fleurus and as a result their collection had to be divided between them. Gertrude kept the Picassos, while Leo took the Renoirs and most of the Cezannes. Le bal de l’Opéra remained in Gertrude’s collection until 1919, when she sold it to the dealer, Paul Rosenberg. It subsequently passed to the Norwegian businessman and collector, Halfdan Mustad, before entering a handful of private collections.

More from 20th Century Evening Sale

View All
View All