Coming out of the Manet exhibition we meet in the lift a couple who have just come out of the parallel Royal Academy show in a neighbouring set of galleries. “Much better than the Manet”, they say, “Most of the big paintings weren’t there”. Well it is true that the exhibition showed mostly the unfamiliar, but it was no worse for that.

This was much more than the flat, plane of the canvas Manet that often comes to mind, a Manet of experiments, of contrasts. One juxtaposition is arranged for us on the gallery walls: the sensitive portrait of the artist’s sister-in-law, Berthe Morisot with a bunch of violets, the icon picture of the exhibition publicity: calm, composed, if questioning and not entirely confident. To its right is displayed a portrait of the same woman “in mourning”, but not just in mourning, but distraught and distorted by grief.

Manet shows us people, faces, expressions, eyes. These are sometimes intimate pictures of the poor, sometimes people who are figures in Manet’s literary and artistic world in late 19th century Paris, and sometimes, but quite rarely, show full-length portraits of personal display. These people are all in some sense distant to us, not because of the simple distance of time and fashion, but because for the most part they are not looking at us, but are reflecting, processing what is going on for them. Manet’s genius is to capture something of his sitters’ interior lives, not in the most part in emotional extremis, as with Berthe in mourning, but in subtle and complex ways, as with blonde Bertha with violets.

So what is going on with this Bertha? Unlike many of the other portraits she is looking back, perhaps with uncertain interest and surprise, at the giver of the violets. Because we see her face-to-face, we are aware of her beauty, or more exactly of the sense of her beauty that the artist had. So perhaps we are seeing through this remarkable picture some sense of Manet’s interior life too.