Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cinco de Mayo

On the 5th of May, 1862, the Mexicans defeated a French expeditionary army at Puebla, one of the first great battles on the way to the preservation and re-establishment of the Mexican Republic. It wasn't until 1867 that the Mexicans were able to depose Emperor Maximilian, a member of the Hapsburg family, who had been installed by Napoleon III in 1864 to assure the payment of international debts and to guarantee European hegemony in Mexico.

Edouard Manet did a series of paintings between 1867 and 1869 to commemorate the death, by firing squad, of Maximilian and two of his generals on June 19, 1867. The execution had been ordered by Benito Juárez, who had been displaced as president of Mexico when the French took control. News of the execution reached Paris on July 1, 1867, and Manet, a republican opposed to the policies of Napoleon III, set to work almost immediately. Working from written and graphic accounts of the event, Manet produced three paintings, a lithograph, and an oil sketch.

The largest painting (depicted here) was exhibited in New York and Boston in 1879. The painting attracted very little attention, and this and Manet’s other compositions in the series were largely unknown for many years.

NOTE: The painting, Execution of the Emperor Maximilian (1867) by Edouard Manet, is in the collection of the Kunsthalle in Mannheim, Germany.


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