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The execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, in 1867, was the subject of a quartet of paintings by the French Impressionist and early Modernist Edouard Manet. These works are rarely shown together, and in fact cannot be seen in their entirety, since one of them exists only in fragments, but the three intact paintings and the surviving elements of the fourth are reproduced in this publication, and will be shown at The Museum of Modern Art's exhibition in the fall of 2006. Maximilian's death was an event of great public interest in France, in part because French policies shared the responsibility for it. A European aristocrat of the Hapsburg family, Maximilian had been installed in 1864 after a trio of European powers, led by Napoleon III of France, mounted an invasion of Mexico to reclaim debts upon which the Mexican government had suspended payment. But Napoleon soon withdrew, abandoning Maximilian to his fate at the hands of a resurgent Mexican army. As news of the execution reached Paris, Manet reacted with a group of works synthesizing the information as it came to him and drawing heavily on an earlier painting inspired by violent political events, Goya's The Third of May. In addition to analyzing and documenting the creation of these works, John Elderfield, in his text, clarifies their historical importance in the context of modern art, and in so doing, offers a capsular history of the place of current events in art.
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