I spent Thursday morning, first thing, in the Royal Academy. The Bronze exhibition last year had already rocked my socks off. I hardly expected another blockbuster on it heels. But that is what we have. I knew next to nothing about Manet – I can recognise a picture or two, and his style, and that’s about it.

We were shown round by the curator, Mary Anne Stevens. As we entered, she said, “The final picture only got here yesterday – from Brazil.” I suddenly thought what a turning of the wheels. Today’s new world now in possession – Sao Paulo’s museum has lent Marcellan Desboutin, one of the best portraits in the show. Later on I was to find that Japan holds no fewer than four of the gorgeous pieces in this exhibition.

As you wander through this painter’s voyage into realism, you realise that it is his portraits that lead to understanding who Manet really was. He painted fewer than 50 pieces, died young of syphilis at 51.

Manet’s life revolved around his salon in Paris. The opera composer Offenbach, the novelist Zola, the radical journalist Henri Rochefort, and the impressionist Claude Monet himself, were all there on a regular basis. And all of them ended up on his easel, as did his wife repeatedly, as well as his mother and his brother.

But the magic of this show is crowned by the magificent crowded painting Music in the Tuileries Gardens. Here the whole of them, all these prestigious and less famous characters from his portrait, gather colourfully under the foliage. It’s an imagined scene of factual people in a factual place.

But where’s the music? Where’s the band? Where’s the orchestra? Well, not in the picture, it seems. They were actually bound by one key musical thread. All had been involved in the risky enterprise of introducing Wagner’s music to Paris.

I learned so much and was swept away by the brush strokes, the realism, and the insight into a world I hardly knew existed. Go now, whilst stocks last!

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