The Black Sheep Of Impressionism

Pivoting off a new exhibit at the Royal Academy, Manet: Portraying Life, Rebecca Willis wades into a longstanding debate over whether or not the painter should be considered an Impressionist, arguing that he shouldn’t. The reason why? His frequent use of the color black:

Black was anathema to Impressionists with a capital “I”, who believed that light was broken up into colours and achieved greys and dark tones by mixing complementary colours. Manet used black—which is actually the absence of colour—as a colour in its own right. A striking number of Manet’s works have large, flat areas of black, which take on an almost abstract quality, like the graphic darkness of women’s elaborate hairstyles in the Japanese paintings he admired: Leon’s coat, for example, in “Luncheon in the Studio”; the riding habits worn by some of his sitters; the men’s frock coats in “Déjeuner sur l’herbe” and (with top hats) in “Music in the Tuileries”. The black notes chime through these and a huge number of the other paintings in this show.