Happy Birthday to Edouard Manet, born January 23th 1832! Edouard Manet (not to be confused with his friend Claude Monet) was considered the Father of Modernism as his style bridged the transition from realism to impressionism.
Edouard Manet was born in Paris, France to a wealthy and well-connected family. His father was a high-ranking judge in the French Ministry of Justice and his mother was the daughter of a diplomat and the goddaughter of the Swedish Crown Prince.
His uncle was the earliest supporter in Manet’s art interest and frequently arranged trips for him to the Louvre. His father on the other hand had hopes that Manet would take up more prestigious interests. After failing the French naval examinations twice, his parents finally gave in and supported Manet’s dream of attending art school. At age 18 he began taking art lessons and began is journey into the art world.
After his father’s death in 1862, Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff who had been his piano teacher and was rumored to be his father’s mistress. When they married, Edouard and Suzanne had had a relationship for several years prior and Suzanne had a ten year old son Leon Keoella Leenhoff. Both Suzanne and her son modeled for paintings.
Edouard Manet the Artist
Manet began art lessons at age 18 studying with Thomas Couture. He spent hours at the Louvre copying the masters. He was inspired by Gustave Courbet’s rejection of Romanticism and Diego Velázquez’s baroque colors. From 1853 to 1856 he traveled to Italy, Germany, and Holland to study several painters that he admired. In 1856 Manet opened his own art studio.
In 1861, he was accepted into the Salon de Paris and awarded the Salon’s honorable mention for The Spanish Singer. From 1862 to 1865 he showed his work in exhibitions organized through the Martinet Gallery.
One of his most controversial pieces was Luncheon on the Grass which he painted in 1863. It was based on Titan’s The Pastoral Concert, however because the painting featured two fully clothed men with a nude female in the park, it was interpreted as a reference to the widespread sex work that happened in French parks at the time. The piece was rejected by the annual Salon de Paris exhibition due to it’s perceived indecency. It instead was exhibited in the Salon de Refusés which was arranged by Napoleon III for some of the 4000 works that were rejected from that year’s Salon exhibition.
Manet’s next controversial painting was Olympia, which was inspired by Titan’s Venus of Urbino. The painting was accepted to the 1865 Salon but received a lot of criticism due again to the references to sex work in the painting (the orchid in her hair, decorative slippers, the bracelet and pearls, and bouquet). In the painting, a nude woman lays looking directly at the viewer while being attended by a fully clothed servant. The model was the same as in Luncheon – Victorine Meurent, who was an accomplished painter herself and modeled for several painters.
Manet received a lot of criticism for his art – both for its style and subject matter, however his work also impressed and inspired other artists of the time. Novelist Emile Zola was one that was impressed by Manet’s work and even published a long article in the Revue du XIX siècle on January 1, 1867 praising his work. Zola saw Manet as a representative of all artists who dare to go against public opinion. As thanks, Manet painted a portrait of Zola which was accepted into the 1868 salon.
Manet also became friends with the other Impressionists and was even invited to exhibit with them in 1874 (and subsequent years). He however declined, preferring to submit to more traditional spaces such as the Salon. Their friendship however had an influence on his painting, which started to use looser brushstrokes and lighter backgrounds. He also experimented using plein air techniques.
During the summer of 1874, Manet, Monet, and Auguste Renoir painted together at Monet’s property at Argenteuil in the south of France.
Style & Themes
Manet began is art journey practicing realism and although he was successful at this, he began to experiment with using a more modern style.
Manet used an alla prima style of painting thickly on a light colored ground which differed from the previous traditional style he was taught by his mentor Thomas Couture which used thin layers built up on a dark background. This style of painting allowed the artist to finish paintings quickly (even in one sitting) rather than taking multiple sessions.
Manet also broke away from traditional humanistic and historic subject matter and instead painted modern urban life. He painted people from all the social classes. His paintings typically included bourgeois and everyday people doing leisure activities. He painted life-sized portraits of barmaids, courtesans, and bullfighters. Manet also painted themes of war after 1870 when he served as a soldier in the Paris National Guard during the Franco-German War, where he witnessed the destruction of Paris.
Later in his career, Manet painted a lot of cafe scenes. He would often do small studies while out in public socializing and then later create a more refined piece in the studio.
Death & Legacy
Edouard Manet became bedridden in the beginning of April 1883 after painting Lilac and Roses. He had suffered from partial paralysis in the years leading up to his death and had to have his foot amputated due to gangrene, a complication of syphilis and rheumatism. He passed away eleven days later on April 30, 1883.
Within a year of his death, there was an exhibition organized at the École des Beaux-Arts, the officially sanctioned art school which holds the Salon exhibition. 179 of his paintings, pastels, drawings, and prints were displayed. The irony of the exhibition being held there after he had been refused and ridiculed numerous times previously was noted by critics.
Manet did however see success from his art during his life. He exhibited several times at the Salon de Paris. In 1870 after the destruction of his studio in Paris due to the war, the remaining pieces of his work that were salvaged were all bought by art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel for 50,000 francs (which was a very large sum of money at that time). In 1881, he was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government. He also illustrated Edgar Allen Poe’s book, the Raven.
His unique style and break away from traditional subjects lead many to consider Edouard Manet the Father of Modern Art.
Resources & Further Learning
If you enjoyed learning more about this artist, I encourage you to check out more of his paintings and research more in-depth articles about his life and work.
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About the Artist
Laura Jaen Smith is an artist who lives and works out of Horseheads, New York. Her inspiration comes from observing the beauty she sees around her. After a decade living out west, she returned back to New York State and started seeing the same old places with new eyes. She is most interested in capturing small moments in nature that might otherwise be overlooked.