Manet’s painting “Plum Brandy” is one of my earliest favorites. With apologies to Manet, my copy could not capture to a greater extent the sweetness of the woman’s tired expression and alcohol-induced world weariness. This painting reveals Manet’s consummate skill of orchestrating a complex mix of color, design, paint handling, and emotion, all within the frame of contemporary life.
The power of the word “composition” takes on a vital meaning in Manet’s painting. Rather than being a stale collection of rules, suddenly it has the connotation of musical orchestration. In Henry Rankin Poore’s book “Pictorial Composition”, he itemizes principles that are evident in this painting:
— pyramid construction of a single unit: the central figure; echoed several times with internal triangles;
— balance and transition by opposition of spots: the irises of the two eyes are the same shape, size, and color as a spot in the center of the plum glass stem, forming an inverted triangle;
— balance by transition: the decoration on the figure’s raised sleeve is a linear version of the plum in the glass next to it;
— vertical and horizontal balance and unity: the background and table surround and lock up the figure into a flattened space like a set of puzzle pieces.
As with copies of Monet shown in an earlier post, I worked in gouache from a small printed reproduction. My freehand painting is quite small and done by eye without tracing. It is inaccurate, but that does not defeat the purpose, which is to use copying to better understand the visual construction of the original. There are many benefits to be gained from copying great art as a way of active seeing.
ABOVE: Copy of Edouard Manet, Plum Brandy, National Gallery, Washington, D.C., gouache on Holbein multi-drawing book, 9″x 6.5″ (22.86 x 16.51 cm), 2/12/08