Manette Salomon portrays the world of art in Paris during the middle of the nineteenth century. Like most of the novels written by the brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, this work emerged out of their personal experiences. In addition to writing extensive reviews of art exhibitions and salons, both the Goncourts were practicing artists themselves and were acquainted with many of the most famous artists of their time. The relationships between artists in Manette Salomon reflect the dynamics of the art world the authors knew.
The main characters represent certain types of artists. Langibout represents the older generation of artist nurtured on officially sponsored schools, and he provides training for younger artists. His stature contrasts with that of the budding artists under his tutelage. Garnotelle is a parody of the classical academic artist. He compensates for his humble background and lack of training by painting in a formulaic manner. Garnotelle enjoys success as a fashionable society portrait painter, and he becomes overbearing and pompous.
Anatole Bazoche represents an artist who may have talent but is more attracted to the life of an artist than to art itself. He attempts to paint a serious work of art but instead creates a horrendous allegorical tableau of democracy and progress with Christ at its center. In the end, he is haunted by the figure of Pierrot, in whom he sees himself. His alter ego, his pet monkey Vermilion, wears the same mask of levity and even tries painting and fails. When Vermilion dies, Anatole buries his playfulness and abandons both art and the bohemian life to become an assistant zookeeper.
Crescent represents the successful artist, someone with talent and a stable personality. He has somehow avoided the corrupting influence of civilization. His wife, unlike Manette, helps to further his career. She takes care of the farm and finances while he works. They have no children, so she does not undergo the same unhealthy transformation as Manette. While the Goncourts show Crescent integrating personal and artistic goals, they, like Coriolis, advocated celibacy as the ideal state for an artist.
The principal character is the artist Coriolis, and his developmental struggle is the focus of the novel. Coriolis not only has real talent but also has the capacity for hard work. While traveling the Continent, he discovers a new approach to painting that resembles Impressionist technique. The method is based on the...
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