(b. 1832, Paris, d. 1883, Paris)
Oil on canvas, 146 x 114 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Émile Zola (1840-1902), novelist, journalist, critic and naturalist, was an influential French writer and social reformist. He was the founder of naturalism in literature. In 1870 he began the ambitious project for which he is best known, the Rougon-Macquart Cycle (187193), a sequence of 20 novels documenting French life through the lives of the violent Rougon family and the passive Macquarts. He is also notable for his involvement in the Alfred Dreyfus affair, especially for his open letter, J'accuse (1898), denouncing the French army general staff.
Manet demonstratively placed a small study for Olympia behind his sitter in his portrait of Zola, who was doing so much on his behalf in essays and a pamphlet. The pamphlet can be seen to the right on the writer's desk. Zola himself makes a well-groomed rather than bohemian impression. The portrait also includes other programmatic material important to Manet: a reproduction of a painting by Velázquez, whose work Manet admired, and Japanese artworks - a painted screen, and a coloured woodcut.