Affect, citation, and rapt looking in Manet’s The Old Musician

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Abstract

A bit to the left of center in Édouard Manet’s painting The Old Musician (1862) stands a young boy, clothed in white and tan, a floppy straw hat haloing his round face. Previous commentators have explained this boy’s significance through the way his figure cites the œuvres of the brothers Le Nain and Antoine Watteau. This article investigates these citations for what they suggest about the boy’s affect: the emotional stance with which his figure approaches and regards the world. Period discussions of the affect of the figures of the brothers Le Nain and Watteau suggest a range of affective possibilities for the figure, from the somnolent passivity of the rural peasant to the irony of an eighteenth-century comic type, Pierrot. Yet Manet’s little boy evinces an affect considerably more knowing, as he takes up the practice that Charles Baudelaire attributed to young children, of looking seriously and imaginatively at the colorful and bizarre visual surface of modernity. This child’s rapt looking at the fleeting and flickering visual aspects of the urban environment leads his figure towards existential ambivalence, as Manet paints the figure using an “approximative,” spectacular technique, in which the referents of painted surfaces constantly shift and dissolve.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-125
JournalWord & Image
Volume34
Issue number2
Early online date19 Jun 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Keywords

  • Édouard Manet
  • Charles Baudelaire
  • Naiveté
  • Le Nain
  • Watteau
  • Champfleury
  • Realism
  • Affect

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