Rezension über:

Manuela Biele-Wrunsch: Die Künstlerfreundschaft zwischen Édouard Manet und Émile Zola. Ästhetische und gattungsspezifische Berührungen und Differenzen, Taunusstein: Driesen 2004, 186 S., 12 Farbabb., ISBN 978-3-936328-17-2, EUR 37,00
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Rezension von:
Rachel Esner
University of Amsterdam
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Ekaterini Kepetzis
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Rachel Esner: Rezension von: Manuela Biele-Wrunsch: Die Künstlerfreundschaft zwischen Édouard Manet und Émile Zola. Ästhetische und gattungsspezifische Berührungen und Differenzen, Taunusstein: Driesen 2004, in: sehepunkte 5 (2005), Nr. 3 [15.03.2005], URL:

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Manuela Biele-Wrunsch: Die Künstlerfreundschaft zwischen Édouard Manet und Émile Zola

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It is certainly not often that one is asked to review a Master's Thesis, particularly not in book form. It is obviously one of the peculiarities of German academic publishing that such a thing is possible at all. Herein lies what makes this little book problematic, but also what makes it useful.

The subject of the friendship between Zola and Manet has been treated many times before, in a variety of contexts and from a variety of perspectives: art-historical, literary, or a mixture of the two, from the purely biographical to the highly abstract and theoretical. Perhaps the greatest merit of Biele-Wrunsch's book is that it brings these previous texts together, combining their manifold insights into a coherent and undoubtedly readable whole. The important works of Werner Hofmann, Karin von Mauer, Robert Kopp, the authors of the seminal 1983 Manet retrospective catalogue and many others are carefully examined [1], and the pros and cons of their different arguments analyzed. All the important aspects of Manet and Zola's friendship, as well as its consequences, are clearly laid out and discussed in detail: we learn how they met; how they made use of each other's talent and status; where the similarities and differences in their theoretical approaches to their very different arts lay; how these were expressed in their works; and the concrete influence they had on one another. As, one might add, is only proper for a student thesis.

Therein, however - to quote Shakespeare - "lies the rub". For what is missing from this small tome is that which, to my mind, makes what is simply a good essay into a true academic book: namely, originality of insight. At the very moment the reader expects to encounter just that, what we find instead is a footnote to one or another of Biele-Wrunsch's predecessors. The discerning points - and there are many - turn out not to be the author's, but rather, for example, Werner Hofmann's or Peter H. Feist's. Scholars with whom she (apparently) disagrees are mentioned, but there is no further discussion of their contributions: why is there no more than a reference to Jonathan Crary's article on Manet's In the Winter Garden [2], while other writers are treated with the utmost authority? So much so, in fact, that secondary sources are often quoted directly - again, perfectly acceptable for a thesis, but not in a work with pretensions to book status.

One certainly cannot blame the author for taking advantage of the opportunities offered by a number of German publishers to bring her work to a wider market. But the existence of such opportunities is in itself problematic. They call into question a number of assumptions about scholarly publishing, in the process perhaps even changing its very nature. The broader question, then, is whether or not this is acceptable, and what the consequences might be. Bound and distributed, all books appear to have the same standing - how then to separate the wheat from the chaff? And, in the Internet age, is this distinction still even valid or desirable? Perhaps not. But then what we may need to reflect on is not necessarily the friendship between Manet and Zola, but rather on our own practice, on what it is that we may rightfully expect from an academic publication. This may well be in the process of transformation, demanding a change in our way of thinking.

There is, however, no denying the usefulness of this little volume: with clarity and an excellent understanding of the material, Biele-Wrunsch provides the reader with a complete overview of the literature on the friendship between Manet and Zola. The effect of this friendship on their work is outlined and generally clearly demonstrated (with the exception of the chapter on Manet's In the Winter Garden). Of particular interest is her description of Zola's critique of Impressionism as a whole, which is key to understanding why this important relationship eventually disintegrated. All in all, having this information brought together in one place is extremely handy, and in this sense the publication may be justified. But again, I think we need to ask ourselves if this is enough. A harsh question, perhaps, in the "publish or perish" world of academia, but a question that needs to be asked nonetheless.


[1] See Werner Hofmann: Nana: Mythos und Wirklichkeit. Köln 1974; ders.: Nana: Eine Skandalfigur zwischen Mythos und Wirklichkeit. Köln 1999; Karin von Mauer: Französische Künstler des 19. Jahrhunderts in den Schriften der Brüder Goncourt: Eine Studie zur Kunstkritik und Kunstanschauungen in Frankreich von 1850 bis 1896. Tübingen 1966; Robert Kopp: "Zola und die Kunst des 'Naturalismus'." In: Katharina Schmidt (Hg.): Manet, Zola, Cézanne - das Porträt des modernen Literaten im Kunstmuseum Basel. Ostfilden-Ruit 1999; Françoise Cachin, u.a.: Manet: 1832-1883, New York 1983. This is only a selection of the literature treated by Biele-Wrunsch; her extensive bibliography is found on 183-186.

[2] Jonathan Crary: "Unbinding Vision." In: October 68, 1994, 21-44. For Feist see, Peter H. Feist: "Zolas Kritik am Impressionismus in der Malerei." In: Realismus und literarische Kommunikation: Dem Wirken Rita Schrobers gewidmet. Berlin 1984, 45-51.

Rachel Esner