Édouard Manet (23 January 1832 – 30 April 1883)
was a French painter. He was one of the first 19th-century artists to paint
modern life, and a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to
His early masterworks, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur
l'herbe) and Olympia, both 1863, caused 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.
Édouard Manet was born in Paris on 23 January 1832, in the ancestral hôtel
particulier (mansion) on the rue Bonaparte 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, Manet 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."
Life and times
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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.
Paintings of social activities
Manet painted the upper class enjoying more formal social activities. In
Masked Ball at the Opera, Manet shows a lively crowd of people enjoying a
party. Men stand with top hats and long black suits while talking to women with
masks and costumes. He included portraits of his friends in this picture.
His 1868 painting The Luncheon was posed in the dining room of the
Manet depicted other popular activities in his work. In The Races at
Longchamp, an unusual perspective is employed to underscore the furious energy
of racehorses as they rush toward the viewer. In Skating, Manet shows a
well dressed woman in the foreground, while others skate behind her. Always there
is the sense of active urban life continuing behind the subject, extending outside
the frame of the canvas.
In View of the International Exhibition, soldiers relax, seated and
standing, prosperous couples are talking. There is a gardener, a boy with a dog, a
woman on horseback - in short, a sample of the classes and ages of the people of
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
(Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère), in 1882 and it hung in the Salon that
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.