Imagine my surprise as I flicked through my coffee table book of ‘Dreams & Reality, Masterpieces of Painting, Drawing & Photography’ (a catalogue of late 19th century artwork exhibited in Singapore last year) only to discover a link between Edouard Manet and Singapore!
This oil painting below of Georges Clemenceau, was painted by Manet between 1879-1880.
Clemenceau was 40 at the time, a brilliant, charismatic Republican who’d already led a very interesting life. He was one of the few politicians at the time to befriend France’s artists, and we can thank him for persuading Monet, (also a close friend of Manet’s), to have a cataract operation.
Although a trained doctor, he never worked as one. Instead he was at various point a political activist, a founder of several magazines, and a teacher of French and horse riding at a private girls school in New York…(?!)
Once he returned to France, he went from strength to strength, becoming Prime Minister and nicknamed ‘Le Tigre’ during WW1.
He survived an assassination attempt and later retired in 1920, embarking on a tour of South and Southeast Asia from 1920 to 1921.
He visited Singapore and was welcomed with the honours of a head of state. He marvelled at Singapore’s economic development, meeting prominent Chinese and Indian officials. He described Singapore as a ‘marvel’, and his press statement is said to be clairvoyant:
“Your country is marvellous and I’m rather confused at having been received with such kindness. I’ll never forget it. Truly, my reception here in Singapore has touched me greatly….You have no beggars in your city. I can even envisage a time when the inhabitants of Singapore will be spending money in the streets without counting”.
You said it Clemenceau.
Although he proclaimed Manet’s portrait to be ‘terrible’, and claimed not to recognise himself in it, I find it vivid and impressive, you can really see the achiever that he was.
So I’ll think of Clemenceau next time I go for a run round the corner on Clemenceau avenue. I’ll think ‘I’m running on the face that Manet painted. Wow….’