Museum of Art’s ‘Printmaking ABC’: Behind Eduoard Manet’s ‘Civil War (Scene from the Paris Commune)’

Edouard Manet, French, 1832–1883 Civil War (Scene from the Paris Commune), 1871–1873 lithograph Gift of David P. Becker, Class of 1970 1994.10.273

There are many treasures on view in the current Bowdoin College Museum of Art exhibition, Printmaking ABC: In Memorium David P. Becker, on view at the Museum of Art until March 24, 2013.

Andrea Rosen, the Museum’s curatorial assistant, shares her thoughts on one of the collection’s prints, Civil War (Scene from the Paris Commune), by Edouard Manet.





With its sketchy tonal areas and seemingly hastily-scribbled lines, Edouard Manet’s Civil War (Scene from the Paris Commune) looks more like a drawing than a print. To achieve this effect Manet used lithography, a printmaking technique that uses an oil-based crayon on a smooth stone surface, thus preserving the painterly gesture of the artist.

Manet also specifically chose lithography for social and political subjects because this easily mass-produced technique could reach a larger public. This print shows the aftermath of the bloody downfall of the 1871 Paris Commune, a short-lived revolutionary government. The artist’s depiction of the fallen soldiers of the revolution appears detached and dispassionate; it is not clear which side of this conflict Manet favors, but this ambiguity was likely intentional.

The production of lithographs required the assistance of professional printers who were subject to strict government control. Previous attempts by Manet to publish prints with overt political content were prevented — the seeming neutrality of Civil War may have been a way to skirt such censorship.

This virtuosic and historically significant print was a gift from David P. Becker, a 1970 Bowdoin graduate, college trustee, and generous donor to the Museum and other causes. He is being honored with the current exhibition.


  1. Bob Armstrong, '71 says:

    Great exhibition at the Art Museum and a wonderful tribute to Dave Becker. I urge all alums and friends to visit before it closes.

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