Edouard Manet’s painting “The Execution of Maximilian” is both dramatic and poignant. Painted between 1867-1869, the large oil painting depicts the execution of Emperor Maximilian I, ruler of the Second Mexican Empire. It was one of three large oil paintings, a smaller oil sketch, and a lithograph that Manet produced on the same subject.
The painting implicates the French government in Maximilian’s tragic death, making it too politically controversial to be displayed during Manet’s lifetime. The composition of the piece alludes to Goya’s style with its use of dark colors and dramatic brushstrokes.
Today, “The Execution of Maximilian” hangs in various art museums worldwide, including Kunsthalle Mannheim in Germany. It is an excellent example of how Manet sought drama through his choice of topic and use of lighting and composition.
Manet likely chose this historical episode because it was well-known at that time. He transformed it into a powerful political statement that still resonates today as an incredible work of art depicting one man’s tragic end at the hands of those who claimed to be his friends.