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Manet fights his famous duel with critic and novelist, Edmond Duranty

February 23rd, 1870


Edouard Manet


Portrait of Duranty (Detail)
1879, Degas

Excerpt from "Edouard Manet: A Rebel in a Frock Coat"

Manet was to achieve what Louis Edmond Duranty considered the most difficult task for a painter: "the truth of color and light." groundbreaking jounral Realisme, Duranty was Manet's exact contemporary, sometime enemy, and longtime friend.

Louis Edmond Duranty was one of the more frequent visitors to the Cafe Guerbois, often showing up there twice a day (after lunch, and again after dinner). Being a close friend of Manet, it is highly likely that he was the one responsible for introducing Manet to the Guerbois in the first place.He described the Cafe Guerbois as:

"The outer room looked like most cafes on the streets of Paris -- white and gilt, with mirrors -- but the inner room was more than a cafe. There were five billiard tables, and their green baize tops created an indoor lawn that merged with the garden beyond the windows at the back. The cafe was dark, smoky, masculine, and intimate; the walls were painted brown from the wainscoting down."

Duranty was a local art critic, writing in such journals as the Review of Paris, the Street, the Flash, Paris, Paris-Newspaper, Parisian Life, Gazette of the Fine Arts, and others. Therefore, it made sense for him to remain in the inner circles of Manet and his young impressionists.

Duranty had written only one brief sentence about the two paintings Manet had sent to an exhibition sponsored by the Cercle de l'Union Artistique, which opened on February 18 on the Place Verdome:

"M. Manet showed a philosopher trampling oyster shells and a watercolor of his Christ with Angels."

On Sunday, February 20th, 1870, Manet, infuriated with Duranty, walked into the cafe and slapped him, then challenged him to a sword duel (this was the "gentlemanly" way of settling arguments in those days). According to police reports, they fought the duel on Wednesday, the 23rd, in the forest of Saint-Germain at 11 o'clock in the morning. Both man brought their "second", and in Manet's case, it was Emile Zola. Here is an excerpt from that police report:

"..their single encounter was so violent that both blades buckled. M. Duranty was wounded above the right breast ... Seeing the wound, the seconds declared that honor had been satisfied and that there was no need to prolong the duel."

The two made up their differences on the following Sunday.This incident became legendary in the Batignolles Quarter and throughout Montmartre. So legendary, in fact, that the regular visitors to the cafe Guerbois composed a song in their honor.

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