When Édouard Manet’s (1832–1883) early paintings were greeted with outrage and derision in the 1860s, Émile Zola sprang to his defense, initiating a friendship that would last until Manet’s death in 1881. Then a young journalist with an eye for controversial causes, Zola was also seeking to launch his own literary career, which would eventually secure for him the reputation as the greatest French novelist of the late nineteenth century.
Zola quickly became Manet’s staunchest champion, defending the painter in a series of impassioned essays and polemics against the aesthetic tyranny of the Paris Salons and the philistinism of the general public. The first of these was an extended study of Manet that, when it appeared in 1867, staked the initial claim for the painter’s modernity; it has come to be regarded as one of the seminal writings on nineteenth-century art. Zola then wrote about his experience of posing for the portrait Manet painted of him. Finally, after the painter’s early death at the age of 51, Zola’s moving summation of his work and legacy appeared in the catalogue of the memorial exhibition. All are reproduced in this volume, along with an informative introduction by the Zola scholar Robert Lethbridge sketching in the broader cultural and political scene of late nineteenth-century France.
Founder of the movement of literary naturalism, Émile Zola (1840–1902) is most famous for his series of twenty novels, Les Rougon-Macquart, which provide a panoramic portrayal of French society. His passionate engagement with liberal politics led to his intervention in the Dreyfus affair in 1898, most particularly with an open letter to the French president entitled “J’Accuse.” Robert Lethbridge, Master of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and emeritus professor of French at the University of London, has written extensively on the relationship of literature and the arts in nineteenth-century France.