Carnations and Clematis in a Crystal Vase is a striking still life painting with clear outlines, although the textured nature of this impressionist painting is still visible. The small crimson carnation flowers are at the back of the floral arrangement, and their petals are painted with the classic, blurred impressionist-style outlines. The larger clematis flowers have much sharper outlines. The white clematis, however, as if a white flag of surrender in battle, is in a position where the carnations almost bleed into it. The two types of flower support each other and yet are in conflict, and this is characteristic of Manet; he likes to bring even the insignificant and seemingly inanimate to life.
On the other hand, The blue clematis flower, which is at the very front is the most striking, making it the ideal centrepiece for the arrangement of nature tamed by artifice. The visible green leaves are also very sharp and noticeable, even against the somewhat dark, blue-grey background, which is also made up of the course brush strokes that show the impressionist influence. The final piece, then, of Carnations and Clematis in a Crystal Vase is the crystal vase itself, with its transparent, sharp-edged oblong sides, which make a clear contrast to the curved shapes of the leaves and flowers above it. The flowers' stems are visible through the vase, but are somewhat blurred. Despite the title of this painting, neither the vase or the stems are a focus of this painting.
The crystal is neither cut in any special manner, nor is it in any sort of unusual, eye-catching shape. While the flowers provide beauty, the vase is purely functional. Perhaps the mention of the vase in the title is a reminder that it, and not the flowers, is the item that is lasting and of real value. However, the fact that Carnations and Clematis in a Crystal Vase (as well as Manet's other still life paintings) is so accurately painted suggests that Manet wished to preserve the beauty of nature.
Art historians often state that Manet's still life collections rest delicately in between modernity and tradition, and it is in this way that Manet manages to create an atmosphere that is elegant and sensual. Indeed, this is a specialty of Manet, that the delicate and the visceral aspects of all living things are felt through his paintings. Carnations and Clematis in a Crystal Vase, as an example of refined beauty that evokes emotion in the eye of the beholder, is no exception.