“In the Conservatory” by Édouard Manet
“In the Conservatory” by Édouard Manet is set in a conservatory 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 colourful 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 conservatory 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 and put 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 its way back to the first museum to own this masterpiece.
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 historic and cultural monuments from war damage, and as the conflict came to a close, 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, who 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 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, cataloguing, removal and packing of all works from all these repositories. The MFAA program was the subject of the 2014 film The Monuments Men.
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. A hundred tons of gold and many works of art presumed to be stolen were hidden by the Nazi’s in the mine and were discovered by the Monuments Men of the liberating United States Army in 1945.
Édouard Manet 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 considerable controversy and served as an influence for the young painters who would create Impressionism. In the last two decades of Manet’s life, he develops his own style that served as a significant influence on future painters.
- 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 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
- Name: Édouard Manet
- Born: 1832 – Paris, France
- Died: 1883 (aged 51) – Paris, France
- Nationality: French
- Notable works:
“One who fears to suffer, suffers from fear.”
– French Proverb
Photo Credit: Édouard Manet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons