Four people have gathered for a game of croquet: seated in the foreground is Manet’s fellow artist Alfred Stevens; in the background is his friend Paul Roudier. Between them are Alice Lecouvé and Victorine Meurent, models who posed for the Impressionists. Manet rarely came closer to the Impressionist style than here. Even if the pictorial structure and the brushstrokes appear spontaneous, the work was carefully calculated. The provocation was deliberate: what look like two married couples turn out to be artists and their models. The bourgeois idyll is a mere illusion.
The arrival in 1906 of the new director of the Städel, Georg Swarzenski, and the founding of the Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut für die zeitgenössische Kunst in 1907 marked the beginning of a series of highly significant acquisitions by the Museums-Verein, the museum association established in 1899. During the years leading up to the First World War, purchases included an artistically cohesive section of the collection in the form of outstanding works of French art, which was frowned upon in many circles in Germany. They included Symbolist works such as Puvis de Chavannes's 'Madgalena', Courbet's dramatic 'Wave' and Impressionist masterpieces like 'A Game of Croquet', painted by Édouard Manet in 1873, the year in which he tried working outdoors for the first time together with Claude Monet. Here, the garden in which the popular leisure game is being practised becomes both a meeting place and the studio of the artist.
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