TOLEDO – Long before smartphones turned so many of us into amateur photographers and revolutionized how we depict one another through social media, there were the works of French Impressionist Edouard Manet.
Known for portraits of friends and celebrities of his era, the painter often called the first modern artist came of age during the mid-1800s when photography first became available to the public. He even kept his own collection of photos of the subjects he painted.
Manets portraits and how they were influenced by photography are the focus of Manet: Portraying Life at the Toledo Museum of Art, the only U.S. stop for the exhibition before it moves to The Royal Academy of Arts in London next year.
The show that opened this month and runs through the end of the year features 40 paintings from public and private collections, including some of his best-known works. Instead of assembling a retrospective of Manets works, the two museums chose portraits that would open the discussion of how photography affected Manets paintings.
Were not suggesting an exact reliance on photography, but this was a new medium in the era that hes painting and it was very important, said co-curator Lawrence Nichols.
It is the first time a Manet (1832-1883) exhibit has looked solely at his portraits, said Nichols, the museums curator of European and American painting and sculpture before 1900. The museums own collection includes Manets portrait of a childhood friend who wrote extensively about the artist.
The proliferation of images is similar to what was happening during Manets time when the camera made portraits ubiquitous, Nichols said, adding, This is very much about 2012 and what it means to conceive of yourself, to be perceived by someone else.
Manets portraits are spread throughout eight galleries. The exhibit neatly flows into another show featuring nearly 100 mostly black-and-white photographs of Hollywood legends. Outside the hall, there are 700 Facebook-like images of community members, museum volunteers and staff.
These threads together make it very contemporary, said Toledo Museum Director Brian Kennedy. The prints and photos take us back literally through time to Manet. It covers all the various ways people use various media to represent each other.