Harry Rand Manet’s Contemplation at the Gare St. Lazare.
University of California Press, 158 pages, $29.95

Poor Manet. In life he was misunderstood by friends as well as enemies; and now in death his art seems fated to fall prey to wildly conflicting interpretations. To some he’s the strict formalist, while to others he’s the canny social critic. Yet when we finally get to the paintings themselves, we cannot help feeling something vital has been left out of much of the discussion—Manet himself.

Harry Rand, curator of painting and sculpture at the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., poet, and author of an important book on Arshile Gorky, has now come forward with his view of the artist. Rand’s approach to Manet is self-consciously different from those of such predecessors as Michael Fried or T. J. Clark. Where they focused on Manet’s entire output,...

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