The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour:
sponsored by Christie's
Manet's 'The Execution of Maximilian'
Becket's Murder and Images of Political Killing
Friday 17 January to Sunday 16 March 2014
Special Exhibitions Room
Manet's 'The Execution of Maximilian' has been described as 'among the most moving and most tantalising pictures in the National Gallery'. It depicts the fatal moment when the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, captured by Mexican revolutionairies, was executed alongside two of his generals in June 1867, and was painted as news of the event was reaching France. Maximilian had been installed by French force as Emperor of Mexico in 1863, after a multi-national army ousted the revolutionary Benito Juarez, who had overthrown the previous Mexican leader. Maintaining French rule had been costly, however, and French troops were withdrawn, abandoning Maximilian to an inevitable fate. Manet painted the sensational event on a large scale. He dressed the firing squad in French rather than Mexican uniform, thereby implying French responsibility for Maximilian's death. The painting was never exhibited and Manet's lithograph version was banned from publication. Cut up after Manet's death, the painting's fragments were bought and reunited by Edgar Degas, and acquired by the National Gallery at his sale in March 1918.
Edouard Manet 1832 - 1883 The Execution of Maximilian © The National Gallery, London (detail)
John Opie's 'Murder of Thomas Becket', about 1793 (detail)
At the Beaney Manet's masterpiece is the focus of an exhibition and supporting programme looking at how artists, including photographers, have created iconic images that come to define events involving political killing.
Exhibits including paintings and prints from Canterbury Museums' collections depicting the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral; prints after paintings of political executions by Jean-Léon Gérôme and Paul Delaroche; images of Communard executions by Manet and James Tissot; engravings of heretics burned at the stake in seventeenth century Canterbury; and photographs by Robert Capa and Eddie Adams from the Spanish Civil War and Vietnam War. Particular highlights are four etchings by Francisco de Goya from the 'Disasters of War', which inspired Manet's composition.