To the countryside! In 1873, the Frenchman Edouard Manet painted en plein air with its natural light for the first time: four people playing croquet together, a popular as well as casual leisure activity. In the foreground sits fellow artist Alfred Stevens and in the background Paul Roudier, one of Manet’s friends. In between are two ladies, modelling. Manet rarely came as close to the Impressionists as he does here. Even though the picture’s composition and brushstrokes look spontaneous, the former is precisely calculated, a planned provocation: the supposedly married couples are the artists and their models – thus, 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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