Volume 20, Issue 3 | Autumn 2021

Manet to Bracquemond: Newly Discovered Letters to an Artist and Friend edited by Jean-Paul Bouillon

Reviewed by Nancy Locke

Jean-Paul Bouillon, ed.,
Manet to Bracquemond: Newly Discovered Letters to an Artist and Friend.
London: Ad Ilissum, an imprint of Paul Holberton Publishing, for the Fondation Custodia, 2020.
175 pp.; 57 color illus.; bibliography; notes; index.
$45 (softcover)
ISBN 978–1–912168–17–0

The 2016 appearance of a cache of letters in the hand of Édouard Manet (1832–83) was certain to arouse interest among Manet scholars, and the collection at the heart of this publication proved to be exceptional.‍[1] Manet to Bracquemond: Newly Discovered Letters to an Artist and Friend contains forty-six letters, most previously unpublished, from Manet to the artist Félix Bracquemond (1833–1914). Jean-Paul Bouillon, known for his work on Bracquemond, has annotated the letters, compiled a chronology, and written an introduction that situates the correspondence in the context of interchanges and projects the artists undertook between 1864 and Manet’s death in 1883 at the age of fifty-one.‍[2] Although Manet’s letters in general can be quite brief, with some one-liners issuing an invitation or confirming an imminent social meeting, those to Bracquemond emerge as substantial and illuminate the artistic activity of both figures.

The scholarly publication of Manet’s correspondence has been surprisingly piecemeal. The art critic and collector Théodore Duret, who was friends with Manet, published a few Manet letters in La Revue blanche in 1899.‍[3] As Bouillon explains, nine letters to Bracquemond appeared as literary curiosities in Le Figaro in 1923, and these were ignored by art historians until the 1980s (1–2). Both Étienne Moreau-Nélaton and Adolphe Tabarant, who produced early studies of Manet’s life and work, quoted many letters, but these were embedded in longer narratives.‍[4] For years, the most significant publication of Manet letters was an art publication of pieces of correspondence Manet embellished with watercolor illustrations, mostly in his later years.‍[5] Larger and more general selections appeared in Manet raconté par lui-même et par ses amis of 1953, and then in Juliet Wilson-Bareau’s volume, Manet by Himself of 1991.‍[6] More focused series were published in journals or in booklets over the years, including Manet’s letters to his family when he was on a naval voyage to Rio de Janeiro (1848–49); his letters to Suzanne Manet (née Leenhoff) during the Siege of Paris; and his letters during his trip to Spain in 1865.‍[7] With a mere handful of letters quoted in volumes dedicated to other figures such as Berthe Morisot and Charles Baudelaire, it was a significant event when Colette Becker published Manet’s letters to Émile Zola in Manet 1832–1883, the 1983 retrospective exhibition held at the Grand Palais, Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and in the same volume, Juliet Wilson-Bareau edited a series of documents including letters related to Manet’s painting of The Execution of Emperor Maximilian.‍[8] Samuel Rodary published a generous selection of Manet’s letters from his final years in the 2019 exhibition catalogue, Manet and Modern Beauty.‍[9] Additional letters have appeared in catalogue essays, journal articles, and booklets over the years.‍[10] The field awaits an edition of Manet’s complete correspondence, and one is being undertaken by Samuel Rodary and Juliet Wilson-Bareau (vii).

Bouillon structures his introduction around six “important moments” in the interactions between the artists that account in some way for the correspondence: Bracquemond’s Portrait of Édouard Manet (1864); Bracquemond’s etching of Manet’s Young Woman Reclining, in Spanish Costume (1864); joint work on etchings and the prints for Zola’s Manet (1867); Republican activism, the war of 1870, and the Commune; Manet’s bookplate etched by Bracquemond (1875); and Manet’s time in Bellevue and his final years (1880–83). Bouillon’s knowledge of Bracquemond’s work and correspondence becomes key as he contextualizes the two artists’ activities under these headings. Even though the letters come from Manet, they frequently reference some common concern, such as an upcoming exhibition at the Galerie Martinet, or center on a project of Bracquemond’s. Discussions of printmaking in the letters will hold the interest of print specialists as well as Manet and Bracquemond scholars.

Each letter appears in the original French, with greetings, signatures, and notes on the paper used. Location and publication history are listed directly below the text of the letter. Bouillon follows each letter with one or two annotations: “Date” and “Note.” Bouillon should be commended for the careful work he has done on dating these letters, considering Manet’s maddening habit of dating letters along the lines of “Monday,” and a correspondence that extends over two decades of friendship. Although Bouillon assigns at least an approximate date to each letter, he presents exhaustive evidence that there is plenty of room for doubt about the date of many of the letters included here. Individual “Note” discussions after the “Date” entries allow Bouillon more precision in annotating the details of each.

Manet’s first letter to his friend and colleague alludes to the making of an appointment to pose for the portrait of Manet that Bracquemond made in 1864. In pastel and colored pencil, the portrait graces the cover of this volume, and a full-page reproduction forms the frontispiece. Bouillon retells the history of this portrait, which “reflects the legacy of Ingres passed on by Bracquemond’s sole master and teacher Joseph Guichard” (9). Manet complimented Bracquemond on the head but “regretted” that Bracquemond had not strengthened the hands, which had been left in a blocky and sketch-like state (114). Photographs of Bracquemond’s studio taken as late as 1913 display the portrait, framed and occupying a place of honor on an easel (15). At some point, however, portions from the right-hand side and bottom of the drawing were cut. Bouillon reproduces these fragments, which include the unfinished hand Manet had critiqued (9). We still do not know who cut the portrait, or when it was cropped. Many of the early and previously unpublished letters included here give us a fuller picture of the progression of sittings, with appointments made between visits to the Café de Bade and Manet’s first summer trip to Boulogne. Bouillon notes, however, that he published the portrait as well as the key letter containing Manet’s critique decades ago, yet Manet scholars have ignored the Bracquemond portrait, despite frequent attention to portraits of Manet by Henri Fantin-Latour, Edgar Degas, Alphonse Legros, and even Carolus-Duran (115).

Bracquemond’s expertise as a master printmaker takes center stage in several letters, including many referring to his etching after Manet’s Young Woman Reclining, in Spanish Costume. It is noteworthy that Manet refers to the painting that he left with the photographer Carjat, almost certainly so that Bracquemond could work with a photograph of the canvas (104). In another letter (Letter 29), dated to 1868–69, Manet explicitly asks for two hours of Bracquemond’s help in etching a plate: “I need your wisdom” (133).‍[11] Bouillon discusses the many Manet etchings on which we know Bracquemond collaborated, especially when it came to the application and biting of the aquatint resin (134). The introductory essay also includes a longer discussion of Bracquemond’s notion of “modelé” or relief, which is very helpful in understanding some of the back-and-forth between the artists as Bracquemond developed his copper plates in response to Manet’s comments, or advised Manet on the making of his.

For all of Bouillon’s painstaking work in trying to establish dates for the letters and a chronology of relevant activities of the two artists, there are several instances in which gaps in his citations of the Manet literature of the last twenty years work against him. Letter 5, for instance, invites Bracquemond over for an evening of music by the Catalan guitarist Jaime Bosch (102). Manet refers to “the evening of Tuesday the 8th at my house,” one of many instances in which his dating was based on rapid delivery by the Parisian postal service, with month and year taken for granted by the recipient. Bouillon rules out certain dates with a “Tuesday the 8th” and proposes that the letter was likely sent before “Tuesday 8 March or Tuesday 8 November 1864—although we cannot entirely rule out Tuesday 8 January 1867” (102). A letter to Champfleury also inviting him to the soirée with “the famous guitarist” on “Tuesday the 8th” includes Manet’s address of 34, boulevard des Batignolles.‍[12] If Bouillon had included a reference to this letter, it would not have entirely settled the question of the dating of Letter 5, but it would have allowed him to eliminate 1867, by which time Manet was living at 49, rue de Saint-Pétersbourg. Although Manet scholars have long followed Tabarant, who asserted that Manet moved to the boulevard des Batignolles in November of 1864, Bouillon casts fresh doubt on that with the evidence of Letter 11, clearly written upon Manet’s return from a summer trip to Boulogne (hence August 1864) but also bearing the return address on the boulevard des Batignolles (98, 110). Thus, Manet moved to 34, boulevard des Batignolles months earlier than November of 1864. With Letter 5 addressed to “My dear friend,” not “my dear Bracquemond,” which replaces “my dear friend” as Manet’s typical greeting for Bracquemond from spring 1864 onwards, there is evidence to lean toward March 1864 for Letter 5, as well as to propose it for the letter to Champfleury.‍[13]

In a letter Bouillon can date with some certainty to 1873, Manet inquires of Bracquemond whether he (or more precisely, his student Babin) knew the dates of an upcoming Salon exhibition in Lyon (144). It seems that neither artist followed with a successful submission to the exhibition in France’s Second City. Bouillon asserts that “Manet exhibited at the Salon des Beaux-Arts in Lyon only in 1883” (145), but we know that the artist exhibited three paintings at the Lyon exhibition in 1869.‍[14] It is a curious omission on Bouillon’s part. The 1869 exhibition opened on January 9, so it makes sense that in December of 1873, Manet would be asking friends whether there was still time to procure an invitation to the next Lyon show.

I would like to single out the design of Manet to Bracquemond, which is both elegant and easy to use for reference. Numbers in bold, followed by the assigned date, introduce each letter, and this typographical decision makes it easy to distinguish between letters and figure numbers for the illustrations. Manet’s text appears in italics, and the page design pleases the eye. At the same time, the volume would have benefited from another round of proofing, as there are several minor errors. Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet were married on December 22, 1874, not December 2 (91); Manet moved into 34, boulevard des Batignolles, not rue des Batignolles (5, 174); Jean Guiffrey, not Jules, introduced the volume Lettres illustrées de Édouard Manet (1, 3, 156, 167).

Édouard Manet was an avidly social being, and every letter in this collection bears this out: “I’ll come over to your place tomorrow at noon, we will have a session” (105); “I’m leaving [Boulogne] the 15th of August and will be glad to see the capital again. Let’s meet on the 16th of August at the Café de Bade at 5 o’clock” (109); “My mother asked me to invite Mme Bracquemond and you to come over for dinner next Thursday” (135), a note Bouillon dates to October 18, 1869, after Félix’s marriage to the artist Marie Bracquemond, née Quivoron.‍[15] Every letter attests to Manet’s friendship with Bracquemond as well as the many projects on which they advised and helped one another. Thanks to Jean-Paul Bouillon’s editorship, nineteenth-century scholars have a new and invaluable source of information on the activities of both artists.


Translations of French to English in the text are by the author of this review.

[1] The letters were mounted on tabs in a bound volume, sold at the Hôtel Drouot by Pierre Bergé & associés/Forgeot on June 28, 2016, and acquired by the Fondation Custodia, Paris (1–6).

[2] See, for instance, Jean-Paul Bouillon, Félix Bracquemond, le réalisme absolu. Oeuvre gravé 1849–1859, catalogue raisonné (Geneva: Skira, 1987), and his earlier publication of some of the letters here in “Les lettres de Manet à Bracquemond,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 6th period, 101 (1983): 145–58.

[3] Théodore Duret, “Quelques lettres de Manet et de Sisley,” La Revue blanche 18 (January, February, March, and April 1899; repr., Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1968), 433–37.

[4] Étienne Moreau-Nélaton, Manet raconté par lui-même, 2 vols. (Paris: H. Laurens, 1926); Adolphe Tabarant, Manet et ses oeuvres (Paris: Gallimard, 1947).

[5] Jean Guiffrey, introduction to Lettres illustrées de Édouard Manet (Paris: Maurice Legarrec, 1929).

[6] Pierre Cailler, Manet raconté par lui-même et par ses amis (Geneva: Pierre Cailler Éditeur, 1953), 1: 41–84; Juliet Wilson-Bareau, Manet by Himself: Correspondence & Conversation, Paintings, Pastels, Prints & Drawings (London: Macdonald Illustrated, 1991).

[7] Édouard Manet, Lettres de jeunesse 1848–1849: voyage à Rio (Paris: Louis Rouart et fils, 1928); Adolphe Tabarant, ed., Une correspondance inédite d’Édouard Manet: les lettres du Siège de Paris: 1870–1871 (Paris: Mercure de France, 1935); Mina Curtiss, “Letters of Édouard Manet to His Wife During the Siege of Paris: 1870–71,” Apollo 113, no. 232 (June 1981): 378–89; Juliet Wilson-Bareau, Manet: Voyage en Espagne (Caen: L’Échoppe, 1988); Arnauld Le Brusq, introduction to Édouard Manet. Lettres du Siège de Paris, précédées des Lettres du voyage à Rio de Janeiro (Vendôme: Éditions de l’Amateur, 1996); Samuel Rodary, ed., Correspondance du siège de Paris et de la Commune (1870–71): Édouard Manet (Paris: L’Échoppe, 2014).

[8] See Manet letters in Denis Rouart, ed., Correspondance de Berthe Morisot avec sa famille et ses amis Manet, Puvis de Chavannes, Degas, Monet, Renoir et Mallarmé (Paris: Quatre Chemins-Éditart, 1950); Claude Pichois, ed., Lettres à Baudelaire (Neuchâtel: Éditions de la Baconnière, 1973); Colette Becker, ed., “Letters from Manet to Zola,” in Françoise Cachin et al., Manet 1832–1883, exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Harry N. Abrams, 1983), 518–30; Juliet Wilson Bareau, ed., “Documents Relating to the ‘Maximilian Affair’,” in Manet 1832–1883, 531–34.

[9] Samuel Rodary, “Édouard Manet: A Selection of Letters, 1878–1883,” in Scott Allan, Emily A. Beeny, and Gloria Groom, Manet and Modern Beauty: The Artist’s Last Years, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2019), 161–83.

[10] See, for instance, Juliet Wilson [Bareau], Manet: Dessins, Aquarelles, Eaux-Fortes, Lithographies, Correspondance, exh. cat. (Paris: Galerie Huguette Berès, 1978); Françoise Cachin, Manet, lettres à Isabelle, Méry et autres dames (Geneva: Skira, 1985); Robin Spencer, “Manet, Rossetti, London and Derby Day,” Burlington Magazine 133, no. 1057 (April 1991): 228–36; David Degener and Juliet Wilson-Bareau, “Bellevue, Brussels, Ghent: Two Unpublished Letters from Édouard Manet to Eugène Maus,” Burlington Magazine 142, no. 1170 (September 2000): 565–67; Arnauld Le Brusq, Manet. Lettres illustrées (Paris: Bibliothèque de l’image, 2002); Nancy Locke, “Manet and his London Critics,” Burlington Magazine 152, no. 1293 (December 2010): 780–82; Nancy Locke, “The Social Character of Manet’s Art,” in Stéphane Guégan, Manet, The Man Who Invented Modernity, exh. cat. (Paris: Musée d’Orsay, 2011), 70–83; Philippe Piguet, Trois lettres de Manet à Alice Hoschedé: un inédit (Paris: L’Échoppe, 2019).

[11] “J’ai besoin de vos lumières.”

[12] Published in Locke, “Social Character,” 80; 83.

[13] “Mon cher Bracquemond” replaces “mon cher ami” in Manet’s correspondence; see Bouillon’s discussion (98; 102–3).

[14] Nancy Locke, “Manet Exhibits in Lyon in 1869,” Burlington Magazine 150, no. 1262 (May 2008): 322–25.

[15] “J’irai demain à midi chez vous, nous ferons une séance”; “Je partirai le 15 Aout assez content de revoir la capitale, et je vous donne rendez-vous le 16 Aout à 5h au café de Bade” [spelling and emphasis in the original]; “Ma mère me charge de prier madame Bracquemond et vous de venir diner avec nous Jeudi prochain” [capitalization in the original].