Vase of White Lilacs and Roses
Edouard Manet ( French, 1832 - 1883 )
From 1879 Edouard Manet was plagued with a disease of the legs that eventually rendered him an invalid and resulted in his death. Hydrotherapy treatments did little to arrest the course of his affliction, but Manet's spirits never flagged, and in his last years he amused himself with painting small oils, watercolors, and pastels, visiting with friends, and writing illustrated letters. Often his still lifes depict flowers which admirers brought to his studio to cheer him.
Vase of White Lilacs and Roses is known to have been Manet's second to last painting before his death on April 30, 1883. Bouquets of springtime lilacs and roses appear in other pictures, as does also the same tall and narrow crystal vase. What sets this painting apart, however, is the unique cross-like structure formed by the vase and two horizontal sprays of lilacs that extend to the edges of the canvas, making for a centralized and symmetrical composition. Given Manet's impending death, one wonders if it is valid to interpret in this composition a religious connotation, conceivably taken even further by the positioning of the three roses at the center of the cross as a symbol of the Trinity.
In any case, the presentation is far from morbid or austere. Indeed, the painting's sparkling color and freshness of handling attest to the delight Manet continued to derive from the world and around him even in his illness.
Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, TX: 1985), 95.