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12 / Conflict and Resistance

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian
The Execution of Emperor Maximilian
Artist / Origin Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883)
Region: Europe
Date 1868–69
Material Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 8 ft. 3 3/16 in. (2.52 m.), W: 9 ft. 10 7/8 in. (3.02 m.)
Location Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany
Credit Courtesy of Art Resource/Photo by Erich Lessing

expert perspective

John ElderfieldChief Curator Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian

» Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883)

expert perspective

John Elderfield John Elderfield Chief Curator Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York

When the news came out that Juárez had executed Maximilian, all the criticism was against Juárez. It took a while for the liberal sentiment to prevail. And I think even it was directed against not poor Maximilian, but against Napoleon III. But, still, actually Juárez was amazingly brave in a sense for having done this and realized that he was going to be criticized and that nonetheless, given the history of Mexico and the way in which people are deposed and then come back or form governments in exile, that he absolutely had to do this. Everybody knows that he did the right thing.

The painting seems a twenty-first-century painting. I mean it absolutely seems of the present. But the context from which it came has actually receded from the painting. And I think that’s the hard thing to recover. What was it like? We have Manet’s letters. We know how he was contemptuous of Napoleon III and thought he was just a terrible person, and that what happened here was clearly something he judged to be entirely in character to this person who was just hopeless and actually made him angry enough to want to paint these huge pictures, as well as being a painter who cared about his career, thinking, ‘Great, I’ve got a subject, which is going to wow people’—that part of the job of the artist is also actually to provide something which is in the expanded notion of the word entertainment. And that’s what this is as well.” 

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