Mirroring naturalism in word and image
A critical exchange between Émile Zola and Édouard Manet
in Ekphrastic encounters
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This chapter explores how Émile Zola’s ekphrastic writings about Édouard Manet’s paintings functioned as a template on which the writer imposed his evolving theories of the naturalist novel. It argues that, while Zola championed Manet in his critical reviews of the artist’s works, he did so in the name of naturalism and the scientific objectivity and analysis naturalism promoted. Moreover, it seems likely that Manet would have read Zola’s 1868 preface to Thérèse Raquin, where the author first mandated his naturalist theories. The chapter asks what Manet would have thought about Zola’s subjugation of painting to writing and his refusal of meaningful content in his art. It proposes that Manet painted Zola’s portrait in 1868 as a response to the critic’s misinterpretation of the painter’s artistic method. Manet’s portrait of Zola also reveals how the artist, in turn, appropriated the writer and his writing to his own artistic agenda, the subsequent manifestations of which culminate in Manet’s final masterpiece, A Bar at the Folies Bergère (1882).

Ekphrastic encounters

New interdisciplinary essays on literature and the visual arts

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