Execution of the Emperor Maximilian
Edouard Manet (French, 1832–1883)
195.9 x 259.7 cm (77 1/8 x 102 1/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on canvas
The Beal Gallery (Gallery 251)
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)
 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