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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

In the Conservatory by Édouard Manet

"In the Conservatory" by Édouard Manet

“In the Conservatory” by Édouard Manet

“In the Conservatory” by Édouard Manet is set in a greenhouse in Paris. It shows a fashionable couple of some social rank. Their married status is conveyed by their rings and the proximity of their hands which reflects a hint of intimacy. The woman is the focus of the portrait, as she is more prominently placed plus her more colorful attire. Their lack of engagement with the viewer creates a sense of detachment.

The conservatory in this painting was in Paris, which was then owned by painter Otto Rosen. Manet used the greenhouse as a studio from 1878 to 79. The couple was Manet’s friends, the Guillemets, who owned a clothing shop.

In 1945 during the end of the Second World War, this painting was among the objects evacuated from the Berlin Museums. It was stored for safekeeping into a salt mine in Merkers. After the war, the picture was discovered and secured by the Monuments Men. Its salvage was documented in photographs, which show soldiers posing with Manet’s painting in the mine in Merkers. Thankfully it survived those challenging times, and it made it’s way back to the first museum to own this masterpiece.

Monuments Men

The Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program, under the Allied armies, was established in 1943 to help protect cultural property in war zones during and after World War II. About 400 service members and civilians worked with military forces to safeguard historical and cultural monuments from war damage. The MFAA sought to find and return works of art that had been stolen by the Nazis or hidden for safekeeping.

This preservation effort was the first time in history, a military force attempted to fight a war and at the same time reduce damage to cultural monuments and property. The men and women of the MFAA, also known as Monuments Men, were mainly art historians and museum personnel. They had significant roles in the growth of many of the United States’ cultural institutions, as well as in museums and other cultural institutions in Europe.

Countless monuments, churches, and artworks were saved or protected by MFAA, often entering liberated towns and cities ahead of ground troops. Monuments Men worked quickly to assess the damage and make temporary repairs before moving on with Allied Armies as they conquered new Nazi territory. Allied forces in Europe discovered hidden stockpiles of priceless art treasures, the product of looting by the Nazis. Monuments Men oversaw the safeguarding, cataloging, removal, and packing of all works from all these repositories. The MFAA program was the subject of the 2014 film The Monuments Men.

Merkers Mines

During the Nazi period, a vast number of European art treasures pillaged by the Nazis were stored in salt mines. One of the largest was the Merkers Mines near the village of Merkel, Germany.

These mines were infamous for being the largest repository for concealed Nazi gold and works of art during World War II. Many works of art presumed to be stolen were hidden by the Nazi’s in the mine. They were discovered by the Monuments Men of the liberating United States Army in 1945.

Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet (1832 – 1883) was one of the first 19th-century artists to paint modern life and was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. His early masterpieces caused much controversy and served as an influence for the young painters who would create Impressionism. In the last two decades of Manet’s life, he developed a style that had a significant impact on future painters.

Reflections

  • How amazing is it that after so much devastating war conflict in the 20th-century, some art treasures were saved?
  • How much architecture, monuments, and art was lost in the 20th-century wars?
  • How did this painting survive in WWII?

In the Conservatory

  • Title:                      In the Conservatory
  • French:                 Dans la serre
  • Artist:                    Édouard Manet
  • Medium:               Oil on canvas
  • Date:                      1879
  • Dimensions:        115 × 150 cm (45.3 × 59.1 in)
  • Museum:              National Gallery (Berlin) – Alte Nationalgalerie

Édouard Manet

Explore the Alte Nationalgalerie – National Gallery, Berlin

Explore Berlin’s Museums

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“It is not enough to know your craft – you have to have feeling.”
– Édouard Manet

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Photo Credit: Édouard Manet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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