"Luncheon on the Grass, originally called "The Bath," is one artistic manifestos that provoke endless comment, both written and spoken. On the whole, however, despite its distinguished antecedents (Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving of Raphael's "Judgement of Paris", and Giorgione's "Pastoral Concert": figures 10,11), it isnot one of Manet's best compositions. The men, for example, seem a little stiff, and the hand of the man at the right holding a cane is somewhat clumsily painted. The passages which show the artist at his best are the nude and the still life, so freshly painted and admirably situated in the landscape, and the poetic vision of the girl bathing in the middle distance that rounds off the composition. The succes of the painting lies the harmony between figures and landscape. This theme, a favorite study for Watteau and Fragonard, had been abandoned by David, Gericault, and even Delacroix. Corot's nymphs were mere accessories to his landscapes. Only Courbet, most notably in "The Rest during Haymaking", had attempted to master the problems of this subject.
Antonin Proust records in his memoris Manet's comments on the inception of this work. He recalls one Sunday at Argenteuil, near Gennevilliers, where the Manet family owned a few houses and property of about one hundred and fifty acres. He and Manet were strtched out on the river bank, "watching the white skiffs furrowing the Seine and making white patches against the dark blue of the water. "It appears that I have to paint a nude," said Manet to his friend. "Well, I will paint one in the transparency of the air, with people like those you see down there. The public will tear me to pieces, but they can say what they like!" Whereupon he brushed his top hat, put it on, and got up to go."
That was August 1862. Manet had already made some progress with his studies for the picture. For the figure of the girl bathing, he first had a model post for him, and afterward used Victorine Meurend. Ferdinand Leenhoff, later his brother-in-law, was the model for the main in the center.
When it was hung in the Salon des Refuses, Luncheon on the Grass was greeted with a burst of indignation. It gave Manet the notoriety from which he was to suffer for so long. What most aroused the anger of artists, critics, and public alike was not, says Gabriel Seailles, "either the subject or its realism, but the new technique, which ran counter to all preconceived ideas of art and all the theories of the schools." In Le Figaro of May 24, Charles Monselet, signing himself "M. de Cupidon," wrote as follows: "M. Manet is a disiple of Goya and Baudelaire. He has already succeeded in disgusting the bourgeois." The traditionalists were startled to see a nude woman (recognizable as a model rather than a nymph) seated with two fully clad art students. Manet's name was on the lips of everyone in Paris, from the ateliers to the most proper drawing rooms.