Contemporary French Civilization

Édouard Manet’s Ham and Suzanne’s lost body in Edgar Degas’s salon1

Contemporary French Civilization (2017), 42, (3-4), 279–300.

Abstract

In the background of an 1895 photograph, which was staged and taken by Edgar Degas in the salon of his apartment, the artist sits in profile; on the wall behind him hang Édouard Manet’s 1874 chromolithograph Polichinelle and c.1875–1880 painting Ham and a fragment of Degas’s 1868 oil portrait of Manet and his wife. Cut soon after its execution by Manet and angrily reclaimed by Degas with the intention of “restoring” it, the damaged canvas that appears in the photograph contains a reclining Manet and only the back wedge of Suzanne. But in Degas’s clever wall vignette and the photograph he made of it, Manet’s sliced ham seems to replace Suzanne’s missing body, the meat’s robust pink flesh and thick seam of fat now a stand in for her flesh.

That artists at the time would have studied internal human anatomy during their training further supports my claim, not only that Manet’s ham resembles contemporary medical cross-sections and is inherently corporeal, but also that Degas could – and did – envision it as a substitute for Suzanne’s body. Rooting my analysis in the contention that representations of food may be uniquely suggestive and resonate far beyond what their seemingly quotidian subject matter might initially seem to proffer, I show that Degas uses the medium of photography to cook up a narrative in which a slab of ham surprisingly restores a wounded body and a ruined painting.

Dans l’arrière-plan d’une photo de 1895, qui a été mise en scène et prise par Edgar Degas dans le salon de son appartement, l’artiste est de profil; sur le mur derrière lui pendent la chromolithographie Polichinelle d’Édouard Manet (1874), de même que son tableau Jambon (c.1875–1880) et un fragment du portrait à l’huile par Degas de Manet et sa femme (1868). Coupée peu de temps après son exécution par Manet et récupérée par Degas dans l’intention de la “restaurer,” la toile endommagée qui apparaît dans la photo contient un Manet qui s’allonge et seulement le coin arrière de Suzanne. Mais dans la vignette ingénieuse du mur de Degas et sur la photographie qu’il en a faite, le jambon tranché de Manet semble remplacer le corps disparu de Suzanne, la chair rose et ferme de la viande et la couche épaisse de graisse lui tenant lieu de chair.

Que les artistes de l’époque aient étudié l’anatomie interne de l’homme pendant leur formation soutient plus avant mon affirmation selon laquelle, non seulement le jambon de Manet ressemble à des sections transversales d’après la science médicale de son temps, et qu’il est intrinsèquement corporel, mais aussi que Degas pouvait – et l’avait – imaginé comme remplacement pour le corps de Suzanne. Enracinant mon analyse dans l’idée que les représentations de la nourriture peuvent être exceptionnellement suggestives et résonner bien au-delà de ce que leur sujet apparemment quotidien semble proposer au premier abord, je montre que Degas utilise le médium de la photographie pour élaborer un récit dans lequel un gros morceau de jambon restaure étonnamment un corps blessé et un tableau ruiné.

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Gogué, Antoine. Les secrets de la cuisine française. L. Hachette, 1856. Les secrets de la cuisine française Google Scholar

Hunter, Mary. The Face of Medicine: Visualising Medical Masculinities in Late Nineteenth-Century Paris. Manchester UP, 2016. The Face of Medicine: Visualising Medical Masculinities in Late Nineteenth-Century Paris Google Scholar

Kessler, Marni Reva. “Ocular Anxiety and the Pink Tea Cup: Edgar Degas’s Woman with Bandage.” Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, vol. 5, no. 2, 2006, n.p. “Ocular Anxiety and the Pink Tea Cup: Edgar Degas’s Woman with Bandage.” Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 5 Google Scholar

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Manet, Julie. Journal: 1893–1899. Editions Scala, 1987. Journal: 1893–1899 Google Scholar

Meller, Kálman Mari, and Juliet Wilson-Bareau. “Manet and Degas: A Never-Ending Dialogue.” The Private Collection of Edgar Degas, by Ann Dumas, et al., Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997, pp. 177–195. “Manet and Degas: A Never-Ending Dialogue.” The Private Collection of Edgar Degas 177 195 Google Scholar

Moreau-Nélaton, Étienne. Manet: Raconté par lui-même, vol. 2. Henri Laurens, 1926. Manet: Raconté par lui-même 2 Google Scholar

Rousseau, Philippe. Still Life with Ham. 1870s. Metropolitan Museum of Art, http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437513, May 2017. Google Scholar

Ruiz-Gómez, Natasha. “The ‘Scientific Artworks’ of Doctor Paul Richer.” Medical Humanities, vol. 39, no. 1, 2013, pp. 4–10. “The ‘Scientific Artworks’ of Doctor Paul Richer.” Medical Humanities 39 4 10 Google Scholar

Vollard, Ambroise. Degas: 1834–1917, 10th ed. G. Crès, 1924. Degas: 1834–1917 Google Scholar

Wells, William. The Burrell Collection: Nineteenth Century French Paintings. Arts Council of Great Britain, 1977. The Burrell Collection: Nineteenth Century French Paintings Google Scholar

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Kessler, Marni Reva