When new Edouard Manet's "Spanish Ballet," now at the Phillips Collection, was chic as can be. It's a picture of a Parisian fashion. It's subject is a vogue -- a craze that swept through France for "Carmen" and mantillas and all things espagnole. Napoleon ignited the vogue by fighting there and bringing back great, dark Spanish pictures, which he put in the Louvre as war booty. (Manet went to the museum and copied them.) Steam locomotives spurred the vogue by eliminating hazards -- bandits in the Pyrenees, stagecoaches on rocky roads, straw mattresses, with fleas -- that had previously attended a voyage to Madrid. (Manet went there as a tourist.) In Paris, Spain was hot. The Spanish song-and- dance show that opened at the Hippodrome on Aug. 12, 1862, was a tremendous hit. The performers came from the Royal Theater in Madrid. Here they are. Manet's painting is immensely stylish in a Parisian way, with its shimmerings of silk, its elegance and artifice. Manet borrowed from Goya the mysterious caped figures at upper left. At the heart of the picture, in the foreground, tossed on the floor, is a fabulous paper-wrapped bouquet. Who threw it? We did. We are not in some smoky dark flamenco cave. The scene is spotlit. The performers are onstage. We're in France, not in Spain.
-- Paul Richard
The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW, acquired Edouard Manet's "Spanish Ballet" in 1928. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (and until 8:30 on Thursday) and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. It's closed on Mondays. Adult admission is $8. Call 202-387-2151 or visit their Web site at www.phillipscollection.org.