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Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

Édouard Manet
French, 1832–1883

The Execution of Maximilian (L’execution de Maximilien)

Lithograph, 1868; published 1884
Museum purchase, 1930.15

In 1864, French troops invaded Mexico, installing Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as a puppet emperor. An insurrection erupted and the French abandoned Maximilian, who was captured and executed on June 19, 1867, along with two Mexican generals, Miramon and Mejia. Emperor Napoleon III’s bungled imperialism infuriated many French, including Édouard Manet, a staunch supporter of the Republic over the monarchy. Manet recorded the event in four paintings and this lithograph. His images reinvented the way history was represented at the time by providing images that were true to life, cool, and objective, rather than heroic or idealized. Stripped of superfluous detail, this lithograph concentrates the action and horror of the event and draws on the war imagery of the Spanish artist Francesco de Goya for inspiration (see Goya’s Disasters of War displayed nearby). Manet’s depiction of the executioners in French uniforms was seen as provocative and French authorities refused to allow the lithograph to be printed. It was only published in 1884, after Manet’s death.