On a visit to Venice, exasperated by the endless allegorical pictures and scenes from Gerusalemma Liberata and Orlando Furioso and “all that rubbish,” Edouard Manet is supposed to have told an artist friend that “a painter can say all he wants to with fruit or flowers or even clouds.” It is a straightforward statement about art-making right up there with Caravaggio’s reported assertion that “there was as much ‘workmanship’ in a still life as in a figure.” These succinct observations collapse the passage of time, offering vivid evidence that despite the seemingly unbridgeable accumulation of years separating them from each other, both Manet and his seventeenth-century predecessor were concerned with the same pragmatic, formal, hands-on issues that have always engaged serious, working painters— even serious, working painters who also happened to have...


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