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


Not surprisingly, Edouard Manet’s painting The Balcony – which challenged tradition, convention, and realism – met with mixed reviews when displayed at the Salon in May 1869. During the late 1860’s, paintings depicting scenes of French bourgeois life were popular; however, Edouard Manet, in ‘The Balcony‘,  breaks from the favored tenets of the day by refusing to give the reader a clear narrative. According to Musee d’Orsay,

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.” 

Click to compare these two paintings below:

The Colors: Not An Impressionist

Although Manet was influenced by the Impressionists, he avoided public exhibitions with the group during this time, hoping that by exhibiting at the Salon, he could avoid being linked with the impressionistic style of painting. According to manet.org, “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.”

In ‘The Balcony’, Manet adopts a color palette dominated by white, vivid green, and black, with small accents of blue (Guillemet’s tie) and red (Morisot’s fan) – choices that were stark and shocking to the critical public. The aggressive and bold green of the balcony rails drew much attention, as evidenced by the article devoted to the work by the Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle in 1878 which stated:[5]

“This painting was exhibited at the Salon of 1869 and is one of those who contributed to form this reputation for eccentricity realistic, this reputation of bad taste that was attached to Mr. Manet.

Video from Smarthistory

The Composition: Still Life of People

Manet deliberately avoided 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.

“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] 

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

The Response: “Close the shutters!”

According to Musee d’Orsay,

“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.” Musee d’Orsay

Summary: 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:



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.


Thanks for Reading! 🙂

The End

4 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 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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


  2. Its good to know the history behind the painting, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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