For the majority of his working life Manet was known for his depictions of Paris café life and scenes of the parks and boulevards of his home city; arguably his most famous work, Le dejeuner sur l'herbe, caused huge controversy at the time both for its daring subject matter and for its bold, unapologetic style. In Still Life with Melon and Peaches we can see an archetypal Manet painting, with its strident use of a bright but limited colour palette and a simple, uncomplicated subject matter.
The table on which the items rest has been bisected, the white tablecloth on the left in stark contrast to the darker, shadowy tones used for the table and the space behind. Although Manet claimed to paint without reference to allegory or hidden signs it is hard not to read some meaning into this overt use of light and dark. The fruit themselves offer a vibrant impression of nature, and though the melon in particular does not seem to be in the freshest of states, the overall result is intense and full of life; one can almost smell the rich, ripe scent of the sun-warmed Mediterranean fruits as they wait to be eaten.
Behind the fruit are some of the common motifs used in still life, a bottle, perhaps of absinthe, and a glass, to remind us of the human existence that dwells somewhere just out of sight. There are clear influences of the Dutch masters in Still Life with Melon and Peaches, but Manet brings a brightness and deftness of touch to the painting, to remind us, as in all great still life, that nature never rests and the passage of time moves forwards relentlessly.