Alexandre, the young assistant and subject model of painter Edouard Manet, enjoys a moment of self indulgence while at work, posing for the painting we now know as ‘Boy With Cherries’.
It’s one of the perks of working for an artist. When you have to model, you must sit still for a very long time.
There’s no other work to do. Alexandre seems to have taken his role as a model quite seriously, dressing up for the part.
See that happy smile and the cap worn at an angle. He’s working and enjoying himself too. What could be better than that?
The Boy, Alexandre
What can we tell about Alexandre from this painting? Although this is a painting and not a photograph, the obviously shabby clothes indicate low social status.
The boy is fair and seems to be handsome. But behind the smile, there seems to be a look of sadness which becomes apparent if you look carefully.
The angle of the red cap could show a number of traits. Is it a sign of vanity? Or maybe it shows mischievousness. Is he naughty, playful or teasing? Or is he putting on a cheerful face to hide his pain?
Life of Alexandre
He was a young boy from a poor background who worked as an assistant in the art world, cleaning brushes for a well-known painter. Did he feel important because he worked for Manet? Who knows? His face is known to us as he sat for paintings for his master.
Manet found the boy to be a versatile model, according to a letter he wrote. He said he was disturbed to find the boy prone to fits of melancholia or depression. But Manet got the greatest shock when he found the boy hanging in his studio.
Manet painted this work in oils, on a canvas. Deeply shocked by Alexandre’s death, he completed the painting after the boy’s suicide. So Alexandre smiles out at the world forever, for future generations to behold. This is thanks to Manet’s painting skills.
This artist walked between the schools of realism and impressionism. In this painting, he walks the line between portraiture and still life, Alexandre’s portrait and the still life study of the cherries. In the work of his famous master, poor, tragic Alexandre has found a type of immortality.