His dalliances with impressionism are no better seen than in this, one of his most accomplished examples of the genre, Rue Mosnier Decorated with Flags. In the painting Manet revels in all things nationalistic - capturing a scene of national pride in the French capital on the afternoon of a national holiday. The day is June 30th, 1878 and the country is commemorating the successful Exposition Universelle which has recently taken place in the city. Though the domination of the French Tricolore is clear in the painting, evoking thoughts of celebration, it is not abundantly clear that there is a complete celebratory mood.
Once the initial splashes of blue, white and red have captured the gaze it is not long before it is drawn downwards to the brown, beige and drab street. More particularly the eyes are drawn the lone figure in the bottom left of a man, struggling up the thoroughfare on crutches, with only one leg. It is this figure that truly belies the reason that France was in need of celebration, and belies the feelings of Manet as he looked down upon the scene from a second-floor window of his Parisian home. The disabled figure, hunched and wearing a blue cape, screams French soldier – personifying the continued recovery of France from the resource and soul-sapping Franco-Prussian war.
As if there is any remaining doubt as to the meaning of the painting, further exploration reveals the answers. The image is meant to be read from left to right. The left hand side of the work shows limp flags and debris accompanying the struggling veteran on his upwards route. The right side meanwhile reveals fluttering banners, well-dressed people perambulating the street or getting into private carriages, and the new buildings of the city. The painting is to all intents and purposes Manet's soliloquy on the contemporary. It is where France has been; where it is heading as the Industrial Revolution enters its stride and the costs and sacrifices made to get there. As if any doubt remains, the depiction of the ladder in the foreground shows Manet's thoughts of optimism are built on shaky and unsure foundations.