New Publication

Recently discovered letters from Édouard Manet to his friend Félix Bracquemond

As part of the series The Fondation Custodia Studies in the History of Art, the Fondation Custodia has teamed up with the English publisher Ad Ilissvm to publish the book Manet to Bracquemond: Newly Discovered Letters to an Artist and Friend, which analyses the almost unknown correspondence between Édouard Manet (1832-1883) and his friend, the artist Félix Bracquemond (1833-1914).

This correspondence was acquired in 2017 by the Fondation Custodia, with the generous support of Jean-Luc Baroni. The letters are beautifully presented here for the first time by Jean-Paul Bouillon, whose lifelong occupation with Bracquemond’s life and work has enabled him to situate the mostly undated letters accurately and discuss their contents in the context of both artists’ careers.

Offered in their original French language, these exceptional letters are accompanied by meticulous comments on their dating and subject matter, and illustrations reproduce most of the works alluded to in the texts. They are preceded by a comprehensive introduction on the friendship between the two men which highlights the principal subjects and themes around which the correspondence revolves over the years.

Letters from Édouard Manet to Félix Bracquemond: two undated notes
Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. 2017-A.1

Bracquemond and Manet probably met around 1860, at a time when Manet was beginning to take an interest in the potential of printmaking for disseminating his work. Many of the letters attest to the frequent, at times almost daily, contacts between the two men, who met in Manet’s studio, at artist’s cafés like the café de Bade and the Guerbois, and at dinners with Manet, his wife and his mother.

Others concern joint projects, such as the illustration of Émile Zola’s brochure issued on the occasion of Manet’s solo exhibition of 1867, or Manet’s ex-libris designed by Bracquemond in 1875.

Their strong bond emerges perhaps most clearly from two longer letters in which Manet, writing from Arcachon – where, awaiting the end of the Commune, he tried to recover from the privations he suffered during the Siege of Paris in 1870 – poured his heart out to Bracquemond about the country’s political situation.

The correspondence will certainly prove to be an important source for the knowledge of Manet’s life and dealings which, after more than a century of intense scholarship, still presents many a gap.

  • Félix Bracquemond, after a photograph by Anatole Godet, Portrait of Édouard Manet, 1867
    Etching, 160 × 119 mm
    British Museum, London
  • Édouard Manet, Portrait of Félix Bracquemond, 1865
    Aquatint, 172 × 113 mm
    British Museum, London

The book is written by Jean-Paul Bouillon, Emeritus Professor of Art History at the Université Clermont-Auvergne and honorary member of the Institut universitaire de France. His numerous publications include editions of writings by art critics (de Goncourt, Zola) and artists (Kandinsky, Denis); monographs on Maurice Denis (1993 and 2006) and Gustav Klimt (1986); and surveys of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements. He is a renowned specialist of the life and work of Félix Bracquemond, of whose graphic work he compiled the first part of a catalogue raisonné (1987). He further consecrated three exhibition-linked monographs to this artist (2003, 2004, 2005) and made Bracquemond’s principal theoretical work newly accessible in a critical edition (Du dessin et de la couleur, 2010).