Edouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat

Beth Archer Brombert, Author
Beth Archer Brombert, Author Little Brown and Company $29.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-316-10947-5
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
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Edouard Manet (1832-1883), whose paintings depict noncommunication between intimates, unspoken secrets and the pretense of bourgeois propriety, led a life of camouflage and deception, according to this compelling, if often conjectural, biography. When the French painter turned 20, his 22-year-old mistress, Dutch piano teacher Suzanne Leenhoff, gave birth to a son whom she named Leon-Edouard Koella. Throughout her life, Leenhoff bizarrely insisted that Leon was her brother; she and Manet (who lived with Leon and his mistress) married in 1863, and the painter became the boy's godfather, yet Brombert builds a plausible case that Leon was actually Manet's unacknowledged biological son. She is less convincing in arguing that Manet and his sister-in-law, painter Berthe Morisot, held mutual unfulfilled romantic longings for each other, or that Manet, often criticized as a neutral, apolitical observer, was in fact a ``political animal'' with center/left sympathies. Even so, her startling, intimate biography brilliantly links Manet's complex personality and hidden personal life to his art. Brombert is author of Christina: Portrait of a Princess and translator of Francis Ponge. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
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