Edouard Manet - Lunch on the Grass
Image courtesy of Mark Harden's Artchive                         
Simon Abrahams has pointed out that the visible earring of the nude woman in the left foreground of the "Déjeuner sur l'Herbe" is identical to that of the woman apparently picking flowers in the background. This, and the general similarity of the two women's appearance, led him to agree with those who say that the painting shows not a picnic, but a studio scene, a model "a model ‘resting between poses’" in the presence of the painting of herself picking flowers and the painter. Had he wanted to, Mr. Abrahams could also have used this interpretation to explain the odd perspective - many have complained that the woman in the background is too big. Abrahams was probably right, however, not to mention this point, considering that the relationships between Manet's foreground and background figures is often odd.

However, this interpretation presents other problems: Although Abrahams claims that "the white fabric discarded nearby is logically the dress the model wears in the ‘painting’", in fact they cannot possibly be the same garment; the dress in the foreground is made of much heavier material than the diaphanous garment worn by the flower picker. However, there is a bigger problem, a logical one: In my innocent youth, I often saw a nude model toss on a garment during her break, but I have never yet seen a draped model strip naked for hers. This, however, would not be the end of the world: painters have stuck female nudes into paintings on the flimsiest of excuses before. Another problem, though, is that Mr. Abrahams' explanation of why Manet originally called his painting The Bath is forced: Why call an image of a studio in which a scene of a woman picking flowers, not a woman bathing, The Bath. Also, for what it's worth, tells us that the painting was inspired by Manet's sight of two women bathing, which has little to do with a studio scene involving a woman picking flowers.

In my humble opinion, there are two likely explanations of the subject of Manet's painting. One is simply that Manet changed his mind at least once, perhaps originally wanting to paint a scene of two women bathing, then deciding that the painting should represent a studio scene, and then changing his mind back again.
Another possibility, which is in fact included in the first, is that Manet just didn't care much about the subject of the painting. This would fit well with the comments by many contemporary critics claiming that Manet was always interested only in the compositions, not in the ostensible subjects of his paintings.
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