For Picasso, the painter Edouard Manet provided both an inspiration as an artist and as a political activist. Manet was one of the painters who, along with Courbet and Pissarro, were active in radical politics during the Paris Commune of 1871. Manet’s rejection of the Third Republic in the wake of the failed Paris Commune, regarded as the first assumption to power of the French working classes, and Picasso’s lament for the collapse of the Fourth Republic, ultimately destroyed by Charles de Gaulle’s unelected return to power in June 1958, poignantly connect the artists across almost a century of French history. Manet and Picasso are further connected through their deep admiration of the tradition of Spanish painting and of Velázquez in particular.
Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe 1863 caused a great scandal when it was exhibited at the first Salon des refusés in 1863. It presents an idyllic scene, away from the conventions of Bourgeois society and the realities of material life but controversially situated by Manet in the present day. Picasso’s works after Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe started with a series of coloured drawings in 1959 and continued through to 1962. His interest in Manet’s painting as an expression of the artist’s sympathetic relationship with the politics of youth and sexual liberation. The idea of young students and naked women picnicking in the woods near Paris reflected the sexual revolutions of the emerging counterculture of the 1960s. In Picasso’s paintings made after July 1961, all four figures, the males as well as the females, are presented in the nude.