The Ragpick Essay

The Ragpicker is a motionless, single subject portrait painted by Edouard Manet. This work took Manet four years to complete, he started The Ragpicker in 1865 and completed it 1869. I personally viewed The Ragpicker at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. It proved to be an overwhelming piece of art because of its size and sprung curiosity to all the viewers.

My personal interpretation of The Ragpicker is one of unstability and lacks warmth. The painting brings compassion to the viewer that sparks a curious desire to know more about the old man in the painting. The painting lacks a background and the stillness of the subject allows the viewer to take in the painting in a short time, which I like about the painting. The old man is lost and dazed but not completely undignified. It makes the viewer want to know about the painter’s life and political or spiritual beliefs. Manet lived in France where he completed a large collection of paintings. During his latter years Manet began to veer toward the styles of an “Old Master”, Velazguez. I somehow believe that this kind of “disappearing background with motionless subjects” was a challenge to Manet. He was quoted to say “…how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and unique figure and still keep it living and real.” These paintings seemed to challenge Manet and maybe that was the main purpose for the change in his style. The painting is perfectly centered and focuses on the cloth bag The Ragpicker carries.

When interpreting the line directions in the painting, one can see that Manet is expressing an unstable character. The Ragpickers knees are bent and shoulders and back are slumped forward. The characters head and arms are bent and faced down and to the side. There are no vertical or horizontal lines in the painting. These express a lack of stability. A viewer can assure this finding because the diagonal line direction of the character does not connect to form a triangle.

When analyzing the color scheme of the painting the viewer only sees one true color. The Ragpicker is wearing blue Levi pants, which is a cool color. The background and the bag on his shoulder are brown, which is not a true color. He also wears a white shirt, this also is not a true color. Reviewing the blue pants the theme of the picture is cold. I seem to picture in my head the elderly man walking the streets at night in the cold. The blue pants create a cold, sad man lost to the joys of life.

The painting is perfectly to scale and proportionate. Manet uses a disappearing background, which seems to enclose the character. The size of the actual painting is very large, but without a background the character is enclosed in a box. I think that this relates to the space depiction because the character is encased only to the canvas.

When I first saw the picture at the Norton Simon Museum I was drawn to it very quickly. The painting is huge. I did not see this picture when I was researching the museum online. This actually was a surprise to see such a cool picture for the first time up close and personal. I think the main reason I liked this painting so much is that the compassion it put in me. The size of the painting was a key part in making the painting such an eye catcher. The simplicity of the character and the fact that it has know background caused me to wonder what the real meaning of this expression was. After walking the museum for two and half-hours, I still was compelled to research and define The Ragpicker.
At the museum information was placed by each painting giving information to the viewer about the artist and the date of the painting. Manet lived in France during 1832 and he died in 1883. I wanted to relate the country and the time to the meaning of the painting. I think half of the attraction to the painting is that it is 120 years old. I began to try and see the culture and the feeling of France in the late 1800’s. The French Revolution and Napoleons defeat happened 54 years before this painting was painted and the correlation seemed to far apart, with the defeated look of the character. Then I thought about the man in the picture. I soon saw that the man in the painting probably fought in the revolution. I began to wonder if this picture represented a generation of French who were defeated along with Napoleon. I remembered the Iraqi war just a few months ago and how many said that France is still bitter of their defeat and chooses not to stand as American Allies. This outlook and simple research, for me, allowed the characters heart to be revealed. By investigating the time period of the painting relevance to a suspicious painting was birthed.

Secondly, I researched Manet himself. The Ragpicker is not a common style for Manet, in the sense of not involving a background. Manet is famous for his impressionist style of paintings. He was praised and gained popularity in the 1850’s for painting peoples and characters that were living in his present day. I found relative information on The Ragpicker and found that Manet was encouraged to use a disappearing back ground by the “Old Master” Velazquez. Manet was greatly influenced by Velazquez and began in the latter part of his life to use this technique in his impressions. After spending time with Velazquez, Manet wanted to use this type of background in his paintings. Manet never found a lot of applause from the “The Ragpicker” and only used the disappearing background on a few of his paintings. During the same time that he was painting The Ragpicker Manet painted and exhibited “Episode of a Bull fight at the solon” this painting was a more traditional Manet but shares a vague background, yet not as extreme as The Ragpicker. This tells the story that maybe Manet was experimenting with this new background but chose not to use it as his signature. Therefore, this painting shows a time in Manet’s life that he was testing his ability of painting. He said that he enjoyed the challenge of this background and fought to keep the figure living and real.

In closing, I feel that this painting expresses the wondering, and possibly the veterans on the French revolution. When studying Manet I found that this vague use of a background was an expression of his desire to challenge himself and his ability to paint. The Ragpicker is a motionless, single subject portrait painted by Edouard Manet. This work took Manet four years to complete, he started The Ragpicker in 1865 and completed it 1869. I personally viewed The Ragpicker at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. It proved to be an overwhelming piece of art because of its size and sprung curiosity to all the viewers.

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