I don’t know when I fell in love with Manet’s work. Was it when I first saw The Railway? Olympia? A Bar at the Folies-Bergère? The Balcony? In the Conservatory (below, left)? I once had a poster of The Grand Canal of Venice (Blue Venice). Or was it when I saw them all together, in 1983, when a sweeping exhibit in honor of the centenary of his death, organized by Charles Moffett and Francois Cachin (and with a catalogue to match), was on view at the Metropolitan Museum?
Alas, being one of my favorite artists does not mean Manet is a household name. So I have watched from afar the Toledo Museum of Art’s recent Manet: Portraying Life exhibition with my fingers crossed for its success. The show was a joint production between Toledo and the Royal Academy in London, and it brought together some 40 portraits by Manet — the first show focused on his portraits. Toledo has long owned one of the best, Antonin Proust, from 1880 (see it here), and it borrowed the rest from museums around the world. When I mentioned the exhibit to a New York-based art connoisseur last spring, he told me Toledo couldn’t do it — so precious are Manet’s pictures — before I could finish the sentence saying it had. Kudos to Toledo.
After that buildup, how did it do? Measured by attendance, not as good as hoped. The Toledo Museum tells me that the exhibition drew just shy of 47,000 people, a tad below the target of 50,000, during its run from Oct. 7 through Jan. 1. On the other hand, critics liked it and 94 percent of the 2,972 visitors who filled out the museum’s exit survey rated it “Excellent” or “Very Good.”
- Because of Manet, the museum opened, for the first time, on New Year’s Day (warming my heart) and “We are most likely going to be open on New Year’s Day from now on because of the positive response from the public and good attendance.”
- “We sold more than 1,000 Museum memberships during the run of the show, including 113 memberships at the $1000 or above level, adding to our existing base of 6,500 members.”
- “Our retail store and café did exceptionally well, with gross revenue increases of 33 percent (retail) and 52 percent (café) respectively over the same period last year.”
- “Nearly 20 percent of our attendance came in the last seven days of the show. Overall Museum attendance in December (37,757) was the highest since the opening of the Glass Pavilion in December 2006.”
- About 75 percent of our visitors came from Ohio, the rest came from 38 states and several foreign countries.
The museum says it faced a headwind in the media because of the presidential election, with Ohio being perhaps the swing state at stake. “It was impossible for us to get on television and lots of potential visitors simply were overloaded with media,” the press office said.
Two more bits of context: Color Ignited: Glass 1962–2012, which did not require tickets (Manet did) and ran for about the same time, drew 40,306 last summer. And The Egypt Experience:Secrets of the Tomb, which ran over nearly 14 months and was ticketed, drew 39,906. So Manet, less sexy than Egypt, usually, still did better.
I know this won’t discourage Toledo from organizing serious shows in the future. But I wish Manet would receive the recognition from the general public that he so deserves.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Columbus Dispatch (bottom)