Seán O’Leary writes:
Síle and I were in Paris recently visiting graveyards! Not as creepy, scary or unromantic as it might sound. The great, the good and the eccentric are buried in the well-known Père Lachaise cemetery but we were intent on seeing Édouard Manet’s grave in Passy cemetery, a smaller and more exclusive resting place in the wealthy 16th arrondissement. Besides being one of the most important painters in 19th century France, Manet was also the quintessential charming urbane upper middle-class Parisian. Posh Passy suits him well as a last resting place.
Intriguingly there are four people buried in the grave. Manet himself was the first to go in followed by his brother Eugène. Later the Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot, Eugène’s wife, was interred there. Finally Manet’s own wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, completed the gathering. In life the relationships between these four people were complicated and fractious. That they should all lie at rest together, with their secrets intact, is fascinating. Would they could speak! Art historians would have to add footnotes to their books.
Berthe, who grew up in Passy, had a passion for Manet. Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, it may or may not have been reciprocated. She sat for him as a model for a number of years. They encouraged each other as painters. But she was jealous of other ladies that he knew and disparaging, in private, about his wife Suzanne. She finally married his brother Eugène in what she herself described as an arranged marriage. It may have been a case of, if not the Manet, then the other Manet?
Intrigue surrounds his wife Suzanne as well. Originally from the Netherlands, she was employed as a piano teacher in Manet’s parents’ household. While there she became pregnant with her only child, a son, Léon. Art historians debate whether it was Manet or his father Auguste who fathered the child. Neither Manet or his father ever recognised the child as their’s. However, ten years later, after Auguste’s death, Manet married Suzanne. Secrets! Secrets! Secrets!
Enjoy more of Manet’s Paris in the forthcoming Let’s Trail, Manet’s Paris (expected publication, 2014 list)