In 1868 while staying at a rented house in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Edouard Manet painted the work ‘Luncheon in the Studio’. The room in the picture is the dining room of the rented house. The painting is to some extent a portrait of Suzanne Leenhoff’s 16-year-old son Leon.
Leon was born before her marriage to Manet five years earlier. The painting is one that has only received limited attention amongst all his other great works. Despite this, the work is accepted as one of Manet’s major works. It is an oil on canvas painting that measures 118 x 154cm. The picture is part of the collection of works housed at the Neue Pinakothek, Munich.
Up to now, the meaning of Luncheon in the Studio was unclear. For over a century there was a view that a meaningful explanation of the work was not possible. The focus of the painting is Leenhoff who has his back to the other two people seen in the picture.
Leenhoff’s placement in the picture is seen as unusual. There has been some debate over who the other two people in the painting are. Some have thought that they were of his mother and Manet. This view is no longer considered to be correct. The man in the picture smoking the cigar and drinking coffee is anonymous. The woman in the picture holding a pot is a servant.
The work shows Manet’s artistic treatment of the subject and his models. In the picture what you can see is a loose group of figures around a table. In the bottom left corner of the picture, we see armour lying on the floor. The armour along with the regular objects that occupy the table, the people and subjects are all symbolic. The symbolisms allow Manet to show both the ‘romantic’ and ‘natural’ modes of his art.
The painting went on display in 1869 at the Paris Salon. It was on view with another of his works, The Balcony. Both came in for criticism from critics at the time. One of their comments was that Manet’s was looking for attention at any price. Despite the comments made at the time, scholars today recognise ‘Luncheon in the Studio’ as being one of Manet’s major works.