Among the masterpieces in the MFA’s collection are three exceptional works inspired by contemporary political events: Edouard Manet’s extraordinary “unfinished” canvas of the Execution of the Emperor Maximilian (1867), which closely followed the posthumous publication of Francisco Goya y Lucientes’ unsettling, graphic series of etchings Disasters of War (1810-20; published 1863), and, painted a century later, Pablo Picasso’s Rape of the Sabine Women (1963), created at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. Each is a powerful statement confronting disturbing events during the lifetime of the artists. “War and Discontent” highlights these timeless and universal works, shown alongside provocative and subtle recent work by artists critically engaged in the present.
Execution of the Emperor Maximilian
Edouard Manet (French, 1832–1883)
In 1867, Maximilian, emperor of Mexico, was executed with two of his generals by order of the opposing leader, Benito Juárez. The Parisian press reacted with horror against the rebel troops in Mexico and against Napoleon III in France; Napoleon had installed the Austrian Maximilian on the Mexican throne in 1864, but later withdrew support for his regime. Breaking with tradition, Manet represented the contemporary event on the grand scale usually reserved for scenes from ancient history or myth. This unfinished canvas is the first of several versions.
1883, probably passed by descent from the artist to his widow, Suzanne Leenhoff Manet (b. 1830 - d. 1906), Asnières, France [see note 1]; given by Mme. Manet to her son, Léon Koëlla Leenhoff (b. 1852 - d. 1927), Paris [see note 2]; 1899, sold by Mr. Koëlla Leenhoff to Ambroise Vollard (b. 1867 - d. 1939), Paris; July 1, 1909, sold by Vollard to Frank Gair Macomber (b. 1849 - d. 1941), Boston [see note 3]; 1930, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Gair Macomber to the MFA. (Accession Date: May 1, 1930) NOTES:  The provenance given here (to 1899) is provided by Adolphe Tabarant, "Manet et ses oeuvres" (Paris, 1947), p. 176.  Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff in 1863. Her illegitimate son, Léon, born in 1852, was almost certainly Manet's child. He inherited Manet's estate after his mother's death.  The sale to Macomber is recorded in Vollard's stock book on July 1, 1909; it was shipped to Boston on September 16, 1909 (Bibliothèque des Musées Nationaux, Fonds Vollard, MS 421 [5,4] f. 134 and MS 421 [4,13] f. 19). Additionally, in a letter from Vollard to Macomber (September 11, 1909), the dealer discusses the latter's payment for the "sketch of the Execution of Maximilian, which you purchased from me." According to notes in the MFA object file (about 1939, taken by Charles C. Cunningham), Mr. Macomber said that he purchased the painting in Paris upon the advice of the painter Mary Cassatt, after she had taken him to see it at "Kelekian's shop." Whether Kelekian played a role in the transaction has not been determined. Correspondence between the MFA and Vollard, dating to September and October 1909, indicates that Vollard had been responsible for the sale and shipment of the painting.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Gair Macomber
No se puede saber por qué. (There is no way of telling why); Fatales consequencias de la sangrienta guerra en España con Buonaparte. Y otros caprichos enfaticos [Disasters of War], plate 35.
Drawn and etched about 1810–143
Francisco Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746–1828)
Working proof, before engraved letters and numbers, before additional drypoint, before burin (H. I, 2).
1863, sold by Valentín Carderera y Solano (b. 1796–d. 1880), Madrid, to Sir William Stirling Maxwell (b. 1818–d. 1878), Keir House, Scotland; 1878, by inheritance to his son, Brigadier General Archibald Stirling (b. 1867–d. 1931), Keir House; 1931, by inheritance to his son, Lieutenant Colonel William Joseph Stirling (b. 1911–d. 1983), Keir House; September 13, 1951, sold by William Joseph Stirling, through Colnaghi & Co. and Philip Hofer (b. 1898–d. 1984), Cambridge, MA, to the MFA. (Accession Date: September 13, 1951)
1951 Purchase Fund
Harris 155, I, 2; Delteil 0154
Platemark: 15.4 x 25.6 cm (6 1/16 x 10 1/16 in.) Sheet: 22 x 31.3 cm (8 11/16 x 12 5/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Etching, sulfur tint (?), burnished lavis, and drypoint; working proof
Not On View
Rape of the Sabine Women
Pablo Picasso (Spanish (worked in France), 1881–1973)
Painted when he was eighty-two, this is Picasso’s last major statement about the horrors of war, perhaps inspired by the Cuban missile crisis. Here, Picasso transforms a familiar subject from the art of the past-the story of early Romans who, suffering a shortage of marriageable women, invited the neighboring Sabines to Rome and then carried off all their young women. Against a sunny background of blue sky and green fields, the overlapping forms of grotesquely distorted figures are compressed into the foreground space, the horses and soldiers trampling a woman and her child.
Upper right: Picasso; Reverse: 4.1.63. / 10. / 11. / 12. / 13. / 14. / 15. / 16. / 17. / 18. / 19. / 20. / 21. / 22. / 23. / 25. / 26. / 28. / 29. / 31. / 2.2.63. / 7. (in irregular columns)
Probably sold by the artist to the Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris [see note 1]; 1964, sold by the Galerie Leiris to M. Knoedler and Co., New York (stock no. A8624); 1964, sold by Knoedler to the MFA. (Accession Date: May 13, 1964) NOTES:  It was included in the exhibition "Picasso Peintures 1962-1963" (Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, January 15 - February 15, 1964), cat. no. 17.
Juliana Cheney Edwards Collection, Tompkins Collection—Arthur Gordon Tompkins Fund, and Fanny P. Mason Fund in memory of Alice Thevin
© 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Suara Welitoff (American, born in 1951)
Description: 2 minutes 50 seconds
The artist; to MFA, Boston, 2002
Maud Morgan Prize Purchase Fund
By Suara Welitoff © 2002 film/video
War and Discontent