KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 11: Spring 2019
Micro-Fiction: 203 words

The Emperor’s Tailor Goes to Paris

by Harriot West
—Inspired by Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe

He didn’t fool her. She knew the emperor was naked despite that story about his fancy new suit. But she was convinced she had enough panache to carry off a similar stunt. And she almost did.

She tracked down his tailor who was hanging out in Lyons near La Croix-Rousse. He’d grown weary and pudgy on a diet of quenelles de brochet, so when she offered him the lure of Parisian boulevards along with a chance to design a smashing new gown, he hopped on the next train.

And he didn’t disappoint. The frock was magnifique! Perfect for a picnic in the Bois de Boulogne. Ferdinand kept caressing the fabric. “Soft as summer clouds,” he murmured. Eugene rhapsodized, “The color is perfection. Such a rosy hue.” And flâneurs in the park seemed equally enchanted.

Until the reviews came in, she thought her ensemble was a succès fou but it turns out, not so much. Critics were scandalized. The Academy rejected her. And she ended up in the Salon des Refusés. A move that pretty much put the tailor out of business, but she loved the attention. Even her agent agreed—she couldn’t have paid for better publicity.

The Luncheon on the Grass: painting by Éduoard Manet

Publisher’s Notes:

The oil-on-canvas painting by Éduoard Manet (1832–1883), Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass), was completed in 1863 and originally entitled Le Bain (The Bath). While the original painting resides at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the reproduction above was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons under United States public-domain license (PD-1923).

This remains Manet’s most well-known work and among the highlights at the Musée d’Orsay, which notes: “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe—testimony to Manet’s refusal to conform to convention and his initiation of a new freedom from traditional subjects and modes of representation—can perhaps be considered as the departure point for modern art.”

However, 155 years ago, the painting was rejected by the Royal Academy of Fine Art’s Salon jury of 1863. For one thing, it’s nearly 7 feet tall by 9 feet wide, a size reserved for historical, religious, and mythological studies, which meant that Le Bain made quite an impression in more ways than one. Thus, Manet exhibited the painting instead in that year’s Salon des Refuses, to a good deal of public and critical controversy. Including folks who were scandalized by the nearly life-sized contemporary looking images of nude women in such close proximity to fully clothed men—in a public setting no less.

But controversy can be great publicity; in this case, Manet received a mixture of negative and positive attention for breaking with tradition.

See also 15 Things You Might Not Know About Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass by Kristy Puchko in Mental Floss (7 January 2016).

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