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(photo courtesy the Frick Collection)

Three works attest to Manet’s vast skill in small but powerful show at the Frick (photo courtesy the Frick Collection)

The Frick Collection
1 East 70th St. at Fifth Ave.
Through January 5, $12-$22

The Frick’s seventh collaboration with Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum might not be a large-scale blockbuster, but that doesn’t make it any less of a must-see. “Manet: Three Paintings from the Norton Simon Museum,” which ends January 4, features three canvases hung side by side in the Frick’s glorious, intimate Oval Room that show off the vast skills of French modernist Édouard Manet. The 1864 still-life Fish and Shrimp reveals Manet’s masterly brushwork, the paint at times almost sculptural; the salmon appears to slither on a chest, its tail flapping. “A painter can say all he wants to say with fruit or flowers or even a cloud,” Manet related to artist Charles Toché. Manet says plenty here with seafood. To the far left is a small portrait of Manet’s wife, pianist Suzanne Leenhoff, who posed for him often. Painted around 1876, Madame Manet shows Leenhoff, who was the family’s music teacher before marrying Édouard, looking slightly away, her dress slightly darker than the shadowy gray background. Tiny parts of the canvas peek through, but the work is not unfinished; it has a sketchy quality despite many layers of paint, lending a mysterious air to the subject.

The Ragpicker, ca. 1865–71, possibly reworked 1876–77 Oil on canvas 76 3/4 × 51 1/2 in. (194.9 × 130.8 cm) The Norton Simon Foundation, Pasadena, California

Édouard Manet, The Ragpicker, oil on canvas, ca. 1865–71, possibly reworked 1876–77, (the Norton Simon Foundation, Pasadena, California)

In between those two canvases, rising above the fireplace, is The Ragpicker, Manet’s bold and provocative portrait of a bushy-bearded older man in tattered clothing, grapsing a cane, refuse in the foreground. Painted between 1865 and 1871 and possibly reworked in 1876-77 — Manet was a constant reviser — it was the final piece in the artist’s “4 Philosophers” series, focusing on beggars and men on the margins of society. Inspired by Diego Velázquez’s style and Manet’s friend Charles Baudelaire’s poem “The Ragpicker’s Wine,” the work, at more than six feet tall, elevates the subject’s importance in a way generally reserved for the wealthy and powerful, yet another reason why the Salon, the arbiter of Parisian artistic success, was not always fond of Manet, who did not gain critical acclaim until after his death in 1883 at the age of fifty-one. While at the Frick, be sure not to miss “Bertoldo di Giovanni: The Renaissance of Sculpture in Medici Florence,” which includes the dazzling bronze sculptures Battle, Lamentation over the Dead Christ, and Crucifixion by the Florentine artist (ca. 1440–91).

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