6 June 2022
The Story of Leo, Edouard Manet’s Secret Son
with Chris Boïcos
Léon Koelin-Leenhoff was born on 29 January 1852. His mother was the young Manet’s piano teacher, Suzanne Leenhoff. Some historians have suggested that the true father of the child may have been Edouard Manet’s father, the high-court judge Auguste Manet. Whatever the case may be, neither parent ever openly acknowledged the true identity of the child who lived with his father and mother until Edouard’s death, officially known as Suzanne’s younger brother.
Only in his painting did Manet symbolically acknowledge the existence of a son born outside wedlock. In the sequence of works we will analyze, we will see how the guilty father’s affection is expressed repeatedly in portrayals of Leo from childhood to young manhood. We will see how Manet employed a host of painterly and art historical references to both disguise but also hint at the true identity of Leo and his relationship to both his parents. In his portraits of Leo and his mother, Suzanne, the great modern painter of the mid 19th century reveals the more intimate and personal side of his art as well as his profound humanism.
Edouard Manet, Luncheon in the Studio, 1868
Munich, Neue Pinakothek
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