Édouard Manet (23 January 1832 – 30 April 1883) was a French painter. One of the first 19th-century artists to approach modern and postmodern-life subjects, he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism.
His early masterworks, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe) and Olympia, engendered great controversy and served as rallying points for the young painters who would create Impressionism. Today, these are considered watershed paintings that mark the genesis of modern art.
Movements: Realism, Impressionism
Édouard Manet was born in Paris on 23 January 1832, to an affluent and well-connected family. His mother, Eugénie-Desirée Fournier, was the daughter of a diplomat and goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince Charles Bernadotte, from whom the Swedish monarchs are descended. His father, Auguste Manet, was a French judge who expected Édouard to pursue a career in law. His uncle, Edmond Fournier, encouraged him to pursue painting and took young Manet to the Louvre.
In 1841 he enrolled at secondary school, the Collège Rollin. In 1845, at the advice of his uncle, Manet enrolled in a special course of drawing where he met Antonin Proust, future Minister of Fine Arts and subsequent lifelong friend.
At his father’s suggestion, in 1848 he sailed on a training vessel to Rio de Janeiro. After he twice failed the examination to join the Navy,his father relented to his wishes to pursue an art education. From 1850 to 1856, Manet studied under the academic painter Thomas Couture. In his spare time, Manet copied the old masters in the Louvre.
From 1853 to 1856 he visited Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, during which time he was influenced by the Dutch painter Frans Hals, and the Spanish artists Diego Velázquez and Francisco José de Goya.
In 1856, Manet opened a studio. His style in this period was characterized by loose brush strokes, simplification of details and the suppression of transitional tones. Adopting the current style of realism initiated by Gustave Courbet, he painted The Absinthe Drinker (1858–59) and other contemporary subjects such as beggars, singers, Gypsies, people in cafés, and bullfights. After his early career, he rarely painted religious, mythological, or historical subjects; examples include his Christ Mocked, now in the Art Institute of Chicago, and Christ with Angels, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Manet had two canvases accepted at the Salon in 1861.
A portrait of his mother and father, who at the time was paralysed and robbed of speech by a stroke, was ill received by critics. The other, The Spanish Singer, was admired by Theophile Gautier, and placed in a more conspicuous location as a result of its popularity with Salon-goers. Manet’s work, which appeared “slightly slapdash” when compared with the meticulous style of so many other Salon paintings, intrigued some young artists. The Spanish Singer, painted in a “strange new fashion caused many painters’ eyes to open and their jaws to drop.”
A major early work is The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe). The Paris Salon rejected it for exhibition in 1863 but Manet exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected) later in the year. Emperor Napoleon III had initiated The Salon des Refusés after the Paris Salon rejected more than 4,000 paintings in 1863. Manet employed model Victorine Meurent, his wife Suzanne, future brother-in-law Ferdinand Leenhoff, and one of his brothers to pose. Meurent also posed for several more of Manet’s important paintings including Olympia; and by the mid 1870s she became an accomplished painter in her own right.
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The painting’s juxtaposition of fully dressed men and a nude woman was controversial, as was its abbreviated, sketch-like handling, an innovation that distinguished Manet from Courbet. At the same time, Manet’s composition reveals his study of the old masters, as the disposition of the main figures is derived from Marcantonio Raimondi’s engraving of the Judgement of Paris (c. 1515) based on a drawing by Raphael.
Two additional works cited by scholars as important precedents for Le déjeuner sur l’herbe are Pastoral Concert (c. 1510, The Louvre) and The Tempest (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice), both of which are attributed variously to Italian Renaissance masters Giorgione or Titian.
The Tempest is an enigmatic painting featuring a fully dressed man and a nude woman in a rural setting. The man is standing to the left and gazing to the side, apparently at the woman, who is seated and breastfeeding a baby; the relationship between the two figures is unclear. In Pastoral Concert, two clothed men and a nude woman are seated on the grass, engaged in music making, while a second nude woman stands beside them.
The roughly painted style and photographic lighting in these works was seen as specifically modern, and as a challenge to the Renaissance works Manet copied or used as source material. His work is considered ‘early modern’, partially because of the black outlining of figures, which draws attention to the surface of the picture plane and the material quality of paint.
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He became friends with the Impressionists Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro through another painter, Berthe Morisot, who was a member of the group and drew him into their activities. The grand niece of the painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Morisot had her first painting accepted in the Salon de Paris in 1864, and she continued to show in the salon for the next ten years.
Manet became the friend and colleague of Berthe Morisot in 1868. She is credited with convincing Manet to attempt plein air painting, which she had been practicing since she was introduced to it by another friend of hers, Camille Corot. They had a reciprocating relationship and Manet incorporated some of her techniques into his paintings. In 1874, she became his sister-in-law when she married his brother, Eugene.
Unlike the core Impressionist group, Manet maintained that modern artists should seek to exhibit at the Paris Salon rather than abandon it in favor of independent exhibitions. Nevertheless, when Manet was excluded from the International Exhibition of 1867, he set up his own exhibition. His mother worried that he would waste all his inheritance on this project, which was enormously expensive. While the exhibition earned poor reviews from the major critics, it also provided his first contacts with several future Impressionist painters, including Degas.
Although his own work influenced and anticipated the Impressionist style, he resisted involvement in Impressionist exhibitions, partly because he did not wish to be seen as the representative of a group identity, and partly because he preferred to exhibit at the Salon. Eva Gonzalès was his only formal student.
He was influenced by the Impressionists, especially Monet and Morisot. Their influence is seen in Manet’s use of lighter colors, but he retained his distinctive use of black, uncharacteristic of Impressionist painting. He painted many outdoor (plein air) pieces, but always returned to what he considered the serious work of the studio.
Manet enjoyed a close friendship with composer Emmanuel Chabrier, painting two portraits of him; the musician owned 14 of Manet’s paintings and dedicated his Impromptu to Manet’s wife.
Throughout his life, although resisted by art critics, Manet could number as his champions Émile Zola, who supported him publicly in the press, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Charles Baudelaire, who challenged him to depict life as it was. Manet, in turn, drew or painted each of them.
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Manet’s paintings of cafe scenes are observations of social life in 19th-century Paris. People are depicted drinking beer, listening to music, flirting, reading, or waiting. Many of these paintings were based on sketches executed on the spot. He often visited the Brasserie Reichshoffen on boulevard de Rochechourt, upon which he based At the Cafe in 1878. Several people are at the bar, and one woman confronts the viewer while others wait to be served. Such depictions represent the painted journal of a flâneur. These are painted in a style which is loose, referencing Hals and Velázquez, yet they capture the mood and feeling of Parisian night life. They are painted snapshots of bohemianism, urban working people, as well as some of the bourgeoisie.
In Corner of a Cafe Concert, a man smokes while behind him a waitress serves drinks. In The Beer Drinkers a woman enjoys her beer in the company of a friend. In The Cafe Concert, shown at right, a sophisticated gentleman sits at a bar while a waitress stands resolutely in the background, sipping her drink. In The Waitress, a serving woman pauses for a moment behind a seated customer smoking a pipe, while a ballet dancer, with arms extended as she is about to turn, is on stage in the background.
Manet also sat at the restaurant on the Avenue de Clichy called Pere Lathuille’s, which had a garden in addition to the dining area. One of the paintings he produced here was Chez le père Lathuille (At Pere Lathuille’s), in which a man displays an unrequited interest in a woman dining near him.
In Le Bon Bock (1873), a large, cheerful, bearded man sits with a pipe in one hand and a glass of beer in the other, looking straight at the viewer.
Manet depicted many scenes of the streets of Paris in his works. The Rue Mosnier Decked with Flags depicts red, white, and blue pennants covering buildings on either side of the street; another painting of the same title features a one-legged man walking with crutches. Again depicting the same street, but this time in a different context, is Rue Mosnier with Pavers, in which men repair the roadway while people and horses move past.
The Railway, widely known as The Gare Saint-Lazare, was painted in 1873. The setting is the urban landscape of Paris in the late 19th century. Using his favorite model in his last painting of her, a fellow painter, Victorine Meurent, also the model for Olympia and the Luncheon on the Grass, sits before an iron fence holding a sleeping puppy and an open book in her lap. Next to her is a little girl with her back to the painter, watching a train pass beneath them.
Instead of choosing the traditional natural view as background for an outdoor scene, Manet opts for the iron grating which “boldly stretches across the canvas” The only evidence of the train is its white cloud of steam. In the distance, modern apartment buildings are seen. This arrangement compresses the foreground into a narrow focus. The traditional convention of deep space is ignored.
Historian Isabelle Dervaux has described the reception this painting received when it was first exhibited at the official Paris Salon of 1874: “Visitors and critics found its subject baffling, its composition incoherent, and its execution sketchy. Caricaturists ridiculed Manet’s picture, in which only a few recognized the symbol of modernity that it has become today”.The painting is currently in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Manet painted several boating subjects in 1874. Boating, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exemplifies in its conciseness the lessons Manet learned from Japanese prints, and the abrupt cropping by the frame of the boat and sail adds to the immediacy of the image. X-rays and pentimenti indicate that the man originally held the rope in his right hand.
He completed painting his last major work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère), in 1882 and it hung in the Salon that year. In 1875, a book-length French edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” included lithographs by Manet and translation by Mallarmé. In 1881, with pressure from his friend Antonin Proust, the French government awarded Manet the Légion d’honneur.
Manet died of rheumatism and untreated syphilis, which he contracted in his forties. The disease caused him considerable pain and partial paralysis from locomotor ataxia in the years prior to his death.
His left foot was amputated because of gangrene, an operation followed eleven days later by his death. He died at the age of fifty-one in Paris in 1883, and was buried in the Cimetière de Passy in the city.
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