I have always admired the rose paintings of Edouard Manet (1832 -1883). There is a spontaneity and freshness to them that I love as if he had just picked the roses from his garden and carelessly tossed them onto the table cloth or even dropped them into a champagne glass so he could start painting them straight away.
However, I just found out this month in a wonderful article from Christie’s auction house that these quick paintings of Manet were actually painted in the last six months of his life (when he was only 51 years old) from flowers that his friends had bought to him in Paris as they visited him for the last time. And he used up every remaining bit of his creative energy to record these flowers with the intensity that he had painted with throughout his lifetime but now with a real urgency.
Manet is quoted as saying “There is only one true thing: instantly paint what you see. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again.”
As a rose artist these words really speak to me and translating Manet’s wisdom into my studio practice will go like this.
1. Don’t be afraid to paint from life. I often hear myself telling people that I’m a slow painter and that’s why I paint from photographs.
2. Just jump in and start painting what you see. I can see that I worry about how the painting is going to turn out rather than just trying to capture the essence of the rose.
3. And finally, paint with intensity and persistence as if every painting is your final moment of creativity. I think that speaks for itself and is quite an important shift in mindset for me.
You can tell that I was profoundly affected by learning about Manet’s last paintings and if you ever get a chance to see these paintings in a gallery you can let Manet’s last brush strokes speak to you also.