The Amazon (ca. 1882), also known as Summer or Horsewoman, is part of an incomplete series on the four seasons. It was painted by Édouard Manet in a commission for his friend Antonin Proust, then Minister of Fine Arts. The theme of the four seasons as female bodies was relatively common in the history of European art — even Manet's sister-in-law, Berthe Morisot, had painted these cycles. It was also habitual in Japanese prints (very popular at the time) to have the seasons portrayed as courtesans.
Due to his poor health, the artist only managed to finish the first painting of the cycle, Spring, before his death in 1883. Encouraged by the success of this first portrait in the Salon of 1882 (shared with another great work of his late career: A Bar at the Folies-Bergère), Manet started to paint three versions of the Amazon aiming for the Salon of the following year.
The painting here considered is the one exposed today in Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza of Madrid, and also the one that was chosen for a posthumous exhibition of the artist's work in 1884, hung at the École des Beaux-Arts between Spring and an unfinished Autumn.
In the cycle, Manet pays great attention to the models' clothing, following Baudelaire's idea that fashion is an essential element of Modernity. In the Amazon the sitter is Henriette Chabot, the daughter of a bookseller of the rue de Moscou. She wears a riding outfit that the painter had borrowed from his friend Gallard d’Épinay. The darkness of the clothes gives the chance to appreciate Manet's mastery of the black tones in contrast with the paleness of the background. The use of light might resemble the technique of the Impressionists at first, but in Manet it is functional to the study of colored surfaces, outlines and textures.
This work, crafted so beautifully even though unfinished, clearly shows the artistry of the painter: how he is able so confidently to convey the essence of things. He was the first artist to capture the daily life of big cities in his painting, believing like Baudelaire that: “the true painter is he who is capable of extracting the epic side of modern life.”