Time was not on my side;
I went on, inept, unhappy, sometimes full of hate for life itself, facing each day with dread, because I feared it might bring more trouble down on my head. The pain of my condition, the impulse to flee from my torment, preoccupied me, but I had no idea of what to do or where to go. Quitting was the thought which dominated my thinking, to escape from the vise which held me, to flee far away, to have peace of mind, to work at a job that demanded nothing, seemed paradise compared to what I was going through both mentally and physically. The worst part was the absence of any definitive goal; nothing, absolutely nothing existed in an objective sense; I worked in a cruel vacuum which spun around like a merry-go-round out of control, usually in a black mood, although occasionally these phases of depression were relieved by rare moments of inspiration.
In the Salon d'Automne of 1868, the canvasses I submitted were summarily rejected: it had become a routine now, another defeat added to a list that went back to my first days in Paris when I failed to pass the examination at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. My reaction to the arbitrary methods of a dictatorial system, in contrast to 1867, was mild, I felt empty inside, an intruder who had no business trying to do what he was doing. I was forced to accept the realities of the situation because there was simply nothing in my power to change things around. The exhibition, in a general sense, if you skipped over my rejection, along with a handful of other radicals, was slightly on the liberal side, approving works by Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, and two by Manet, "Ecco Homo," and a painting of a reclining nude, "Olympia," which caused a storm of protest from conservative elements in the Academie and the critical press. The battle between the academic majority and the dissidents, quiet since the Salon des Refuses, began all over again with increased intensity. The most powerful weapon of the conservatives was the press which ran critical columns damning the Hanging Committee of the Salon for allowing the picture to be shown. Castagary, a critic who was a staunch supporter of the Academie, said: "Manet has sunk to a new level in his plan to replace our traditional values. His ugly portrait of a disgusting whore, brazen and offensive to all decent-minded people, is unacceptable. We are not opposed to freedom of expression by Manet or anyone else, but we draw the line at indecency, pornography, if you wish, thinly disguised as art! I am filled with loathing at Manet's indiscretion and his callous disregard of the effect his painting will have on the French public. The outrageous subject matter of "Olympia," its garish colors, its poor unfinished technique, are, in my mind, the antithesis of art." Another critic, Jean Provaire of La Rapelle, described the subject of "Olympia," as a rotten corpse resurrected from the dead. "Where," he asked, "is the nobility required of great art? Can the dissident painters claim Manet's painting as revolutionary? Is it the wave of the future, the signs of things to come, the direction that will displace all the traditional ideas? If this is what these radical artists are attempting to achieve, then we have to deal with it in a realistic manner, to stand by the truths which have been right in the past. The question is what sort of action shall we take, how will we address this situation, how we can pass our negative reaction on to the public. This is a serious issue, not one to be taken lightly, and I don't believe critics take the contretemps as a passing phenomenon: a kind of journalism aimed at pubic interest or sales of a particular newspaper. The temptation is to hold our noses until we have moved safely by these examples of depravity but it is very hard to do this when the arguments have escalated to their present level."
"The dissident painters are trying with all their might to make a cause celebre of this painting by Manet, hoping no doubt to break the resolution of those who defend French art, to destroy the standards which have made the country foremost throughout the world as a nation in the vanguard of those who espouse the highest standards of creativity. We, as reponsible critics, draw the line because we cannot see radicalism as being important simply because it is radicalism. Innovation in itself: and most of my colleagues agree with me on this, cannot be considered as a viable basis for discarding ideas which have stood the test of time. In my opinion, there has to be an art far superior than Manet's despicable 'Olympia,' to convince us that the validity of change is essential to the perpetuation of this nation's position which has elicited the admiration of collectors, connoisseurs, and historians."
"This kind of attack," I told Zola, "goes on in most of the newspapers relentlessly, arousing public opinion against us by using Manet's 'Olympia,' as a symbol of what the radical movement represents. Manet himself was stopped the other day as he walked along the Rue Faubourg Saint-Honore by academic painters who threatened to attack him because they felt his painting was subversive and revolting." Zola was aroused by this, saying: "The academics are fools, ignorant fools, who cannot see beyond what they have been taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts!" He vowed to do everything in his power to defend Manet, planning articles which he hoped Hatchette might publish, and even printing pamphlets explaining what Manet and the radicals wanted from the system. I sympathized with Manet, perhaps even more than Zola, because I had suffered similar abuse, and I hadn't accomplished anything even close to "Olympia." It wasn't that I was overcome by the painting; it didn't embody my vision of the future, but nevertheless, I respected the positive qualities of Manet's talents. No doubt it was a forward step toward new ideas for the dissidents, a rallying point, from which they could move on to their own mode of expression. Many aspects of the canvas were original, brilliantly executed, factors which, as a fumbler, I appreciated. I saw Manet's art as resistant to romanticism, classicism, and at the same time, a denial of Courbet's realism.... The important fact, as far as the radicals were concerned, was that Manet had moved out on his own in a forthright opposition to the official line, stating unequivocally, that all painters had the right to express themselves in their own way. Manet's "Olympia," was deeply moving to me, as it was to other artists in the radical group. They saw with new eyes, they took heart, and accepted the art as a departure from traditional ideas. They believed their work could now be more personal, less derivative, a direct response coming out of a reaction to natural phenomena. My reaction was an inner excitement, an exhilaration, a rising sense of expectation, a future painted in brighter colors. It was the spark I had been looking for, the inspiration, the catalyst calculated to turn my confusion into something positive. The old influences, the traces of academic thinking, were no longer a bar to my progress. I felt free to choose a course of development that would be limited only by my own intellect and talent. I believed, now, that it wasn't necessary to measure myself against existing standards, that I was on my own, that my goals could be reached by a process of trial and error. The optimism enabled me to throw aside the lethargy of the past, the frustrations I had enduredover my inadequacies, and concentrate mainly on what I did to the exclusion of everything else.
The fresh concepts emanating from Manet's "Olympia," were based more on the structural foundations of the picture, and not the surface effects, which held small interest for me. The idea of painting from an instinctive basis, whatever stimulated the artist's creative energies, was much more appealing than depending an external theoretical assumptions. Pissarro, when I met him at the Cafe Guerbois, during a meeting of the dissident group, agreed with the philosophical conclusion. "The real truths," he said, "are in nature: those who cannot see this are making a serious mistake. Art, a imagined entity, should not be seen as a factory product, a repetitive, machine-like experience, a known factor, a mathematical certainty, which is repeated over and over, again and again. We see this on every side today, ad nauseum, a monotonous unimaginative thing. Good art, Pissarro emphasized, "is as infinite and varied as nature itself." He described Manet as an artist who broke from tradition but still remained part of it. "'Olympia,' he insisted, "is not as revolutionary as many people believe it is; the subject matter, the technique, has obvious precedents in Italian and Spanish art, with the exception, perhaps, that it is not tied either to religion or royalty. Manet has said many times that it is not his intention to replace traditional or contemporary art which follows traditional guidelines. 'I respect the painters of the past,' he told me once, 'their achievement will never be threatened by any single painter or group of painters and will stand for all time. All I have ever asked is that I be allowed to express the truth as I see it without condemnation by those who might think differently.' I believe him when he says this," Pissarro concluded, speaking softly, "but I don't see the Academie letting him get away with anything which might threaten their position."
from Pour Moi, Cezanne