Édouard Manet Biography

Édouard Manet (1832 – 1883) was a French modernist painter and has been widely credited for paving the way from realism to the impressionism movement.

Many famous impressionist artists owe a debt of gratitude to Manet as his earlier work would inspire them to break free from traditional forms of art and the types of subject matter that was deemed appropriate up until that point.

Many later famous impressionist artworks have hints of Manet in them although he would later reject out-right impressionism himself.

The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art’s audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.

-Paul Gauguin

The Post-Impressionist artist, Paul Gauguin’s words couldn’t stand truer throughout the history of art. Especially during the 18th and 19th century, many artists breathed new life into art through innovation and experimentation.

One among them who took the most backlash due to his revolutionary ideas in art was Edouard Manet. The French artist remained unwavering in his resolve to show the world that innovation can be unwelcoming, but it is the only way to progress and evolve.

Let’s dig deeper into the mediums and techniques used by Manet to depict emotion and soul through his artwork!

Édouard Manet

The French artist Edouard Manet was born into an affluent family of Paris, on the 23rd of January, 1832. He was one of the most controversial artists of his time who defied traditional techniques and altered the conventional elements of art.

Edouard Manet’s mother was the daughter of a diplomat and goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince, Charles Bernadotte. His father, Auguste Manet, was the chief of personnel at the Ministry of Justice, and Eugénie-Désirée Fournier.

Manet first started studying French and the classics at Canon Poiloup’s school in Vaugirard. Later, he went on to study at the Collège Rollin as a boarder. From the start, Manet showed little interest in studies and did poorly in all other subjects except the special drawing course.

Manet’s father longed to see him studying at a law school. But, despite his best efforts, he could not talk him into pursuing it as a career. On the other hand, his parents could not be persuaded either to let him become a painter.

So, amid these conflicting desires, he applied to the naval college and ended up failing the entrance examination. In 1848, he went on to become an apprentice pilot on a transport vessel.

He then failed the naval examination yet again, which finally led his parents to give in to their son’s desire to become a painter.

In 1850, Manet joined a classical painter, Thomas Couture, at his studio where he learned a great deal about drawing and pictorial techniques.

After six years of valuable learning, Manet set up a studio that he shared with Albert de Balleroy. Over the years, he created many works worthy of appreciation and recognition.

Despite the criticism that kept raining upon him throughout his career, his efforts in modern arts brought a transition from realism to impressionism.

The history of art, today, marks his experimentation and innovation as the underlying factors that brought him to the pinnacle of his success.

Manet’s work from his early years of career show his inspiration of a realist artist, Gustave Courbet. During this time, his work mostly stuck to contemporary themes and everyday life subjects.

These works depict scenes of bullfights, pavement cafes, beggars, singers and gypsies. You will also notice that he used rather loose brush strokes and the details abide by the traditional themes and standards.

After this phase, next comes the time period when his work progressed from simpler themes to historical and religious ones. He worked on various paintings of the suffering Christ.

Two of these works were also displayed at two famous art museums in the USA. Another two works were displayed at the Salon, which was a major accomplishment for an artist at the time. After his early works, we hardly find other paintings on the subjects of religion, mythology and history.

Manet also painted an image of his parents that was displayed at the Salon as well. However, this piece gained little recognition as compared to The Spanish Singer painting, which was also featured at the Salon.

Manet’s paintings at the Salon stood out among other artists’ works due to their unusual and less detailed appearance. Despite the difference from the traditional style of painting, his work became a subject of intrigue and inspiration among young artists.

It is safe to say that his distinct style of painting gave way to innovation for the birth of modern arts.

When comparing Manet vs Monet it is Monet who is the strict impressionist painter and Manet’s works are a mix of styles.

In 1863, one of his works was rejected by the Salon due to his revolutionary techniques used in the painting. Manet exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés, instead.

This painting, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, brought him a good share of criticism and disapproval far and wide. Unfortunately, this criticism chased him and his unique work throughout his career.

People were largely offended by the female nudity in his paintings in the presence of clothed young men. Rather than viewing the allegorical perspective of his works, people found the nudity to be vulgar and even threatening.

Some of the critics also disapprove of the the work due to the depiction of figures in a harsh light and in a woodland setting. They felt that the depiction was unusually unrealistic and indecent.

Another one of his works, Olympia, caused a scandal in which a nude female gazes boldly and brazenly at the viewer. Dismayed by so much criticism, Manet left for Spain in 1865. However, his aversion to Spanish food and a total lack of the language soon brought him back.

Despite the challenges and persistent criticism, Manet remained relentless in bringing people in grips with impressionism. Some of his most famous works include:

  • Music in the Tuileries
  • The Battle of the USS “Kearsarge” and the CSS “Alabama”
  • The Execution of Emperor Maximilian
  • Boating
  • A Bar at the Folies-Bergere
  • The Railway
  • The Absinthe Drinker

The last work of one of the pioneers of modernism was A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. Before his last piece of artwork, he received the highest form of recognition in his life, Légion d’honneur, from the French government.

In 1880, Edouard Manet fell prey to a medical condition that made him retire to the quieter suburbs of Paris. The last many of his personal works were portraits of his wife, Suzanne Leenhoff.

He passed away in 1883, leaving behind a timeless legacy of 430 oil paintings, 89 pastels and more than 400 works on paper.

Above all, his reputation as the first of the moderns and one of the most influential artists remains unsurpassed to this day.