Listening to Art

09.12: Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe

Download (MP3).

Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume nine, number twelve: Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Édouard Manet.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

I quote from Ernst Gombrich’s The Story of Art (pp. 512–513):

The third wave of revolution in France (after the first wave of Delacroix and the second wave of Courbet) was started by Édouard Manet (1832–83) and his friends. These artists took Courbet’s programme very seriously. They looked out for conventions in painting which had become stale and meaningless. They found that the whole claim of traditional art to have discovered the way to represent nature, as we see it, was based on a misconception. At the most, they would concede that traditional art had found a means of representing men or objects under very artificial conditions. Painters let their models pose in their studios, where the light falls through the window, and made use of the slow transition from light to shade to give the impression of roundness and solidity. The art students at the academies were trained from the beginning to base their pictures on this interplay between light and shade. At first, they usually drew from the plaster casts taken from antique statues, hatching their drawings carefully to achieve different densities of shading. Once they acquired this habit, they applied it to all objects. The public had become so accustomed to seeing things represented in this manner that they had forgotten that in the open air we do not usually perceive such even gradations from dark to light. There are harsh contrasts in the sunlight. Objects taken out of the artificial conditions of the artist’s studio do not look so round or so much modelled as plaster casts from the antique. The parts which are lit appear much brighter than in the studio, and even the shadows are not uniformly grey or black, because the reflections of light from surrounding objects affect the colour of these unlit parts. If we trust our eyes, and not our preconceived ideas of what things ought to look like according to academic rules, we shall make the most exciting discoveries.

That such ideas were first considered extravagant heresies is hardly surprising.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 265 cm wide by 207 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Édouard Manet, recorded at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, on 16 July 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Édouard Manet. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit

Listening to Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Gombrich, Ernst. The Story of Art. 15th ed. London: Phaidon, 1995.

Musée d’Orsay. “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe—Édouard Manet.” Musée d’Orsay.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe,”éjeuner_sur_l'herbe.

⸻, s.v. “Édouard Manet,”Édouard_Manet.