Exhibition of the week: Manet: Portraying Life, Royal Academy of Arts, London W1

 

There is always something fresh to be learnt about Edouard Manet. Portraiture, which he pursued in oil and later in pastel, is as good a way as any of exploring his varied works.

All Manet's works were efforts to catch something of the contemporary world about him. He painted his family, friends from his circle of cultural contacts, professional models and, especially in his later years, young women. What was it he was seeking from the pictures?

The simplest answer is "realism", which meant not just painting accurately from life, but stripping art of all the connotations of moral lesson and monumentality as in traditional art.

The new hero was the man about town, the observer. His pictures are as much a comment as a rendering. This is not a gathering of masterpieces, but the outpouring of one of the geniuses of art who stood each time before his canvas with a subject, thought and thought about what he wanted to say and then worked to express it.

(020 7300 8000; royalacademy.org.uk) to 14 Apr

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