1880; Private Collection
It was Manet's decidedly Impressionist ambition, towards the end of his life, to paint open-air pictures in such a way that `the features of the characters would melt into the vibrations of the atmosphere'. In 1880 his poor state of health caused him to spend the summer at Bellevue, on the outskirts of Paris, where he rented a house and while undergoing hydropathic treatment he contrived to paint several pictures according to his plein-air intention, in the garden of the house. They included one view of the garden without figures, a painting of Madame Auguste Manet seen in profile and the work reproduced here, all giving a sunlight effect.
The brilliant result in the picture of the girl reading is obtained by a development of Manet's personal style of oil sketching in which he concerned himself with the general opposition of light and dark areas to the exclusion of half-tones. This was not exactly Impressionism as Monet came to understand it though Monet had passed through a phase in which he adopted Manet's technique. But if Impressionism strictly meant the translation of light into color irrespective of light and shade, Manet was still working to a more traditional recipe. What he meant by features melting `into the vibrations of the atmosphere' would seem equivalent to creating an envelope of surrounding light but the figure of the girl reading is more of a silhouette against the sunny background than a form sharing the same source of light. The picture, however, has the verve that was Manet's individual gift.