Edouard Manet: The Balcony (1868-1869)

Edouard Manet, The Balcony, 1868-1869, Oil on canvas, H. 170; W. 124.5 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The Balcony

When Manet painted this piece, scenes of bourgeois life were in vogue, yet The Balcony went against the conventions of the day.  The painting tells no story or anecdote; the protagonists are frozen, as if isolated in an interior dream, evidence that Manet was freeing himself from academic constraints, despite the obvious reference to Majas on the Balcony by Francisco Goya,   (Google Arts and Culture and Musee d’Orsay)

Click to enlarge:

Unique Styles

Manet’s paintings were influenced by the Impressionists, yet he was uninterested in becoming involved with exhibitions during this era in art. He was more keen on displaying his works at the Salon, so he could avoid any notions that he was a representative of the impressionist style of painting. Although Manet was also fond of using lighter colors, his paintings often had a hint of black, which was not typical in most paintings during his time.    (Quote from http://www.manet.org/)

Video from Smarthistory

The Subjects

The three principal figures depicted were each friends of the artist. From left to right they are: the painters Berthe Morisot, and Jean Baptiste Antoine Guillemet, and Fanny Claus, a violinist. Some have suggested that the fourth figure, barely visible in the shadows, is the young Leon Leenhoff, the son of Manet’s wife. (smarthistory)

The subjects seem to be disconnected from each other: while Berthe Morisot, on the left, looks like a romantic and inaccessible heroine, the young violinist Fanny Claus and the painter Antoine Guillemet seem to display indifference… Just behind the railings, there are a hydrangea in a ceramic pot, and a dog with a ball below Morisot’s chair.[2]

This was the first portrait of Morisot by Manet. Manet adopts a retrained colour palette, dominated by white, green and black, with a accents of blue (Guillemet’s tie) and red (Morisot’s fan).

Manet deliberately eschewed any sense of connection between the figures, treating them more like objects in a still life than living people. None of them looks at the others.

Edouard Manet, The Balcony, 1868-1869, Oil on canvas, H. 170; W. 124.5 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, detail

“Close the shutters!”

At its presentation at the 1869 Salon, this enigmatic group portrait was overwhelmingly misunderstood. “Close the shutters!” was the sarcastic reaction of the caricaturist Cham while another critic attacked “this gross art” and Manet who “lowered himself to the point of being in competition with the painters of the building trade”.

The vividness of the colours, the green of the balustrade and shutters, the blue of the man’s tie, as well as the brutal contrast between the white dresses and the darkness of the background, were perceived as provocation. The hierarchy usually attached to human figures and objects has been disregarded: the flowers receiving more detail than some of the faces.

It is not surprising then, that a painting which took such liberties with tradition, convention and realism so shocked its early public. (Google Arts and Culture and Musee d’Orsay)

Video From Musée d’Orsay


“Everything is mere appearance, the pleasures of a passing hour, a midsummer night’s dream. Only painting, the reflection of a reflection – but the reflection, too, of eternity – can record some of the glitter of this mirage.”

Édouard Manet

Click for enlarged image detail:

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The Balcony was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1869, and then kept by Manet until his death in 1883. It was sold to the painter Gustave Caillebotte in 1884, who left it to the French state in 1894. It is currently held at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris.


“The Balcony” by Edouard Manet, Google Arts and Culture, accessed June 24, 2018, https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-balcony/ggFK0UgXAd7OCA?hl=en

Edouard Manet, “The Balcony”, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, accessed June 24, 2018, http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1tx_commentaire_pi1[showUid]=7121&no_cache=1

Edouard Manet, “Édouard Manet and His Paintings”, accessed June 23, 2018, http://www.manet.org/

Wikipedia contributors, “The Balcony (painting),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Balcony_(painting)&oldid=843091653 (accessed June 25, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Édouard Manet,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%C3%89douard_Manet&oldid=846867856 (accessed June 25, 2018).

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I love how you feature all the detail images and i know how long it takes to put a post with all these images captions and careful links to sources. A treasure chest of gems. I did not know this painting at all so I was happy to learn something new 😀


    1. I’m so happy you like it! You made my day. 🙂


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