I think I know you all well enough to let you in on a little secret: I fell in love with another American years before I met my Husband. We saw each other (and still do) almost everyday, for a few delicious minutes a-deux. He’s tall, skinny and sweet and we’ve seen parts of Spain, the UK and the US together. My (other) American is of course the Starbucks latte, a steady staple of my life. We stand together through thick and thin and while I’ve flirted with others (a bohemian corner shop, a high-end connoisseurs cafe) I’ll always be true to my green-logo’d lovely.
Which is why I was surprised to find out that one of Starbucks’s Seattle-area stores is selling beer and wine in an effort to attract a larger afternoon crowd. It seems that times are tough and that even super-established brands like Starbucks can’t be immune to change.
Our portrait today slickly sums up how I feel about the Bucks booze bender: i.e. not impressed at the thought of alcohol alongside my coffee drinks and snack treats. This is Plum Brandy (c. 1877) by Edouard Manet, and what a sulkily saturated mood he serves up here! This might have been painted at a favorite haunt of the artist’s, Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes. It’s where Manet would meet birds of his feather, people pushing the artistic avant-garde.
Because you see, Manet (1832 – 1883) was a revolutionary, albeit a reluctant one. He longed on the one hand for official recognition from the Salon but on the other he couldn’t help paint things that looked modern, both in subject and style. Take the technique he’s using here for instance: people picked at what they saw as Manet’s “mania for seeing in blocks.” And it is true, he paints in patches that stand apart when seen close-up, but which meld magically together when seen some steps back, giving an incredible sense of depth and visual lure.
What, we wonder, is her situation here? She has that cigarette propped between her fingers and her chin propped on her hand. She seems alone and altogether distant. Manet gives us a suggestive vantage point: it’s as if we’re standing over her, though she’s none the wiser, lost in thought. How clever that the sleek marble table block mimics the colors of her clothes (light pink, dove grey and whites, in those patches I mentioned): it becomes a part of her and serves also to block us off.
This painting in a cafe is soaked with brooding as well the brandy: an effect (I grant you) that might have been harder to pull off, had she been sipping a latte.