It was sold to the renowned art patron Charles Ephrussi, who is one of the men it is believed that Marcel Proust based his character Charles Swann upon. Manet and Ephrussi had agreed upon a price of eight hundred francs for the painting, however, Ephrussi sent a payment of one thousand francs to the artist. To repay the patron, Manet painted a single spear of asparagus on the same marble counter as that of the original bunch, and sent it with a note saying that one was missing from the bunch.
A Bunch of Asparagus is a simple piece, consisting of a bunch of asparagus laying on a bed of rocket lettuce atop a white marble counter. Thick, pale, and with beautifully subtle highlights of cream, mauve, and pale green, the asparagus is bound loosely with copper coloured rings, while the dark green of the lettuce create an excellent contrast to the bunch.
With the lettuce, Manet manages to infer some depth to the piece by painting the tips of the rocket leaves, which are in the foreground, a rich, dark green, while the bottoms of them are paler, with yellow-green highlights to denote the stems and drying ends.
The painting would be rather dark without the inclusion of the white marble, upon which the lettuce and asparagus lie. the sweeping mauve and grey brushstrokes against the bluish-white give the marble a sense of realism, as if it were more than just a resting place for the object of the painting, and makes the painting feel more intimate, as if the observer has wandered into the artist's home as he was preparing a meal, depite the fact that the background is dark and plain, refusing to allow us to see exactly where the painting took place.
As with all of Manet's paintings, there is a definite sense of movement with the picture, as if the bunch of asparagus will roll off its bed of leaves and onto the marble counter the second the viewer turns away.