Is it a great piece of art?

Art historians make sure that anyone who comes across Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Lawn is made aware it was a departure point for Modern Art.

They say it inspired impressionists who put a match to post-impressionists, who co-existed alongside Manet-influenced Cezanne who paved the way for cubism and Picasso who, a hundred years later, made dozens of his versions of the Luncheon. It keeps inspiring artists today, globally, to produce their own Luncheons.

Somehow, Manet’s Luncheon is making a constantly growing crowd of artists compulsively obsessed with the theme of four people having a picnic in the woods.

Is it great art then because it works like an unstoppable mental virus?  

Or is it great in itself, without Monet, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, and hundreds of other artists paying tribute to it?

What is great about its flat figures and collapsed perspective?

What is great about a naked woman staring back at you, as if you’re somehow more engaging than the two men in ridiculous 19th-century frocks?

Any ideas?

I’ll get back with my answers in a couple of days – in the meantime, roam the collection of the Luncheon Heritage, and have fun. I skipped Picasso, Cezanne, Gauguin, and Monet. I am sure you know them already.

You know something is really, really great if it’s been featured in the Simpsons. I mean there’s a generation of people who believe if it’s not in the Simpsons, it sucks.


And Star Wars, of course, for middle-aged fans like me. Though I’d put Vader in Luke’s place: the gesture looks exactly like the famous choke hold. 787871-darth_vader-han_solo-luke_skywalker-manet-philip_bond-princess_leia_organa-star_wars-the_luncheon_on_the_grass-art

Aha! The power of the mind can be truly amazing! Or is it the Force? Here it is, a St.Tropez version the way I wanted it (even though Choubakka doesn’t seem to be impressed by Vader’s power):


Great or not, but you know something must be impactful if it gets appropriated by marketing people, who, as Douglas Adams once noted, “would be the first against the wall when the revolution comes”.

Some of the bastards try to sell you picnic food as an essential part of group sex activities:

11 dejeuner

And others want to convince you that a Dior bag is as classy as Manet’s art. I wonder if Dior customers want to associate themselves with a Barbie who ventures into the woods wearing stilettos, heavy jewelry  and no mosquito protection. I didn’t get the impression Dior salespeople were as dumb as their marketing folks last time I was buying a shirt.

13 dior_secret_garden_versailles_ii

YSL went even further.


YSL marketing geniuses undressed two men who stopped their conversation at once (it often happens to men who suddenly get naked in front of a fully clothed woman), and made Kate Moss open her mouth a bit as if she’s deep in thought, sizing you up. Or, rather, having sized up Exhibits A and B in front of her, is now doing complicated mathematical calculations meant to tell her if yours, given the relative distance, is bigger. What the heck it has to do with clothes or hommage to Manet, I can’t possibly imagine. Perhaps, ultimately, it’s about apples, because – come to think of it – anything anywhere can be reduced just to that damning fruit.

Speaking  of fashion, any brand will tell you that true recognition begins when the Chinese start making fakes. I don’t mean those sweat shops that make custom-sized identical copies of historical masterpieces. They never get their colours right anyway.

I mean real artists, like Yue Minjun, who only paints himself in his pictures.


It may look like a cheap web spoof, but I am sure Mr Minjun whistled all the way to the bank when it fetched $1.5 m.

Everyone’s aware that an Asian interpretation of European art can be as confusing as a European take on Asian culture (this is why we tend to avoid Chinese restaurants that have no Chinese customers in them).

But gangster culture is globally universal:

12 DSC00993

I am sure a Russian mobster, a gypsy baron, or a British bank robber would shiver with immediate resonance with this photograph.

While staying on the Asian versions, look at this Luncheon:

07 Etienne Cail - Le dejeuner sur l'herbe

You know, what’s most surprising about it? The artist is French, and not of Chinese origin. Etienne Cail, 24 y.o.

How great is a European artwork if a Frenchman makes a Chinese copy of it? Or is it Japanese? I am getting lost in this enigma wrapped in mystery. 

Another evidence of greatness is becoming a part of feminist discourse.

08 sally moore le-dejeuner2
Sally Moore Luncheon After Manet

We’ve already seen a couple of naked men, but here a man takes the place of the nude woman, while women take the places of men.

Don’t yawn, I know you’ve been expecting this to happen to Manet’s Luncheon for quite some time now. Switching gender roles might seem obvious, but the important bit about this painting is the frog.

Yes, there’s a frog in Manet’s painting, and it is absent here. Perhaps, the artist is sending us a subtle message by choosing not to paint it? Or, perhaps, the frog is now covered by the man’s straw hat with a pink ribbon (that makes the observer reconsider the whole gender-role switching thing again)?

Or, perhaps, I just read too much into it.

I wanted to end this gallery with a Luncheon that would offer something more interesting than a trite change of gender, or a reversal of nudity.

This is a Russian version by a Russian artist hated by Russians for the way he shows Russia. Ironically, it is just as scandalous for Russians, as Manet’s original was for the French. And not because it is totally untrue.

Vassily Shulzhenko, Luncheon on the Grass


  1. En fait sur ce tableau de Manet, l’homme est toujours égal a lui même, restant habillé parce qu’il porte braguette, la femme se doit d’être nue, certaine sans fausse pudeur, l’autre hésitante encore, très réaliste tout ça , le matcho reac et sa victime plus ou moins consentante, le seigneur est son droit de cuissage , masquant son désir assouvie par une posture désinvolte et d’un geste royal . La femme en arrière plan se lave t’elle de souillures, ou se prépare t’elle , se dit- elle que bientôt son tour, ou pense t’elle que son amie n’a aucune pudeur et qu’elle exagère …?!!!

  2. It would seem that Manet had copied by Raphael “The Judgement of Paris” engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi (as you can see in Wikipedia). But, why decided Manet to make this work?

    1. The frog: it’s very difficult to see the frog in the painting of Manet, it is located at the bottom left near the blue dress, but very difficult to find it. Why is it so important?

  3. Of all the interpretations, only Shulzhenko’s is creative. He re-interpets it in Russian terms while keeping some of the same stylistic elements. His work is inspired by the Luncheon, but not derivative.

        1. Many are those who lived well off their paintings, but few GREAT artists pulled it off. THe ones who followed the sponsor or public taste and made themselves rich just dissipated into oblivion )

  4. You would think that Princess Leia would take the opportunity of getting naked in public to release her hair from its ridiculous style.

    1. Well, you may not believe it now, but it was he himself who invented the post-modernist recycling of masterpiece ) So he shouldn’t complain, really ))

      1. He seems o be associated with modernism,not post-modernism.Post-modernism is not very clearly defined, actually. Could you please give me some instances of Manet’s post-modern art?

        1. Post-modernism was about skeptical critical reinterpretation of past achievements in human culture. That’s exactly what Manet did in his Luncheon. I don’t really care that art historians say he was a modernist. Well, he was, no doubt about that, except that he used post-modernist methods to create a new kind of art.

    1. For me, his greatest achievement was not depicting the Middle Class, but inventing Middle Class aesthetics ) I’ll get to it in the next installment.

    1. Yes, some of them are funny, some are,.. expected, some are plain boring, but I am yet to see something that will be made in the spirit of this painting, but won’t replicate it. I hope I will be able to make myself clear in my next post, as I promised )

  5. I happen to like the original Luncheon on the Lawn. Never realized how many varients there were. The funniest by far, to me, was Yue Minjun’s take on it. Perhaps the painting is so intriguing because of the story behind it. That story is left up the viewer.

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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