Artist Christopher Benson and I were comparing notes about Manet and he mentioned seeing Vermeer’s “The Lacemaker” in Manet’s portrait of his parents that is in the Musee d’Orsay. Having read Jack Flam’s article in Artnews about the great monograph on Vermeer published in the 1870s and its influence on Manet, I was surprised that Flam didn’t mention this connection. This painting was painted too early to have been influenced by the monograph, but “The Lacemaker” is in the Louvre, where Manet undoubtedly studied it. And it would also indicate Manet’s interest in Vermeer.
What Christopher was seeing was the similarity in the handling of the yarn in the basket of Manet’s mother and Vermeer’s Lacemaker. I had never noticed this connection, but the minute you examine the details, it seems obvious.
In Vermeer’s piece the use of a camera obscura influenced the in and out of focus quality of his work. While Manet was painting, photography was certainly in use, and was, in fact, used by several of the Impressionists, most notably by Degas. There is no evidence that I am aware of that Manet resorted to such devices. Here it seems more likely that he is “quoting” the handling in Vermeer. The composition doesn’t seem to refer to Vermeer, although of all the Vermeer’s, it is his religious painting “In the House of Mary and Martha” that seems most like the Manet.
Christopher and I both enjoy searching for what I call “artist DNA”, the lines of influence that not only go from one artist to another, but between works of art that are at times separated by centuries.
Christopher Benson will be having a retrospective at Cushing Memorial Building on the museum grounds at 76 Bellevue Ave. in Newport, Rhode Island. The show runs from September 29th. I am sure that you will find plenty of “artist DNA” in his work!
Books of Interest: