Édouard Manet (1832 – 1883)

Édouard Manet became a model for the young generation that later became known as the Impressionists.

He consolidated his primacy in the modern school and developed an imitation of classical painting in the service of an unprecedented topicality in the choice of subjects.

En el Café, impresionismo de Édouard Manet. Obras famosas del impresionismo.
At the Café, a work by Édouard Manet

Biography and History of Manet

Manet, who belonged to the Parisian bourgeoisie, was passionate about the arts from an early age.

At the age of 18 he entered the workshop of the historical painter Thomas Couture, where he revealed his exceptional technical skills, as well as a recurrent insolence with respect to academic conventions.

Despite the difficult relationship he had with his master, Couture provided him with a strong masterly presence, from which Manet formed his artistic personality before abandoning this teaching to devote himself to copying the old masters: Giorgione, Titian, Velázquez and Hals.

«La merienda campestre», a reinterpretation of a work by Giorgione, was rejected by the jury of the 1863 Salon, and «Olympia», in imitation of Titian’s «Venus of Urbino», was not accepted in 1865.

These paintings were reproached for their crudeness, which opposed the hollow lyricism of academicism and the criticism of hypocritical bourgeois good taste.

Edouard manet - la merienda campestre
The picnic – Édouard Manet

Influence on Impressionism

Édouard was considered a precursor and a guide by the impressionist circle in gestation in 1870, a role he did not assume, although he remained very attentive to its proposals.

The influence of Impressionism quickly manifested itself in his art, especially in the new fluency with which he resolved his subjects and the decreasing references to the classic boats.

At the end of the 1870s, the official art world and the critics decided to «tolerate» Manet and accepted his paintings in the salons.

Edouard manet - Olympia
Olympia – Édouard Manet

Manet broke new ground for painting by stripping it of the literary academicism of his time and giving it a new purpose: to show external reality by creating a pictorial reality.

By breaking with the realism of Courbet and Millet, and by refusing to convey a social message, Manet’s work was presented as an autonomous equivalent of its subject and not as a servile instrument of imitation.

Curiosities of Édouard Manet

Edouard Manet was a French painter who is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern art. He challenged the traditional conventions of painting and chose subjects from his own time, such as urban scenes, social gatherings, and portraits of his friends and family. He also influenced the Impressionist movement, although he never joined their exhibitions. Here are some interesting facts about his life and work:

  • He came from a wealthy family and had a passion for painting since childhood. His father was a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Justice and his mother was the goddaughter of the crown prince of Sweden. His uncle, Edmond Fournier, encouraged his artistic talent and took him to the Louvre to study the old masters. However, his father wanted him to become a lawyer and opposed his artistic aspirations. Manet tried to join the navy twice but failed the entrance exams. He finally convinced his father to let him pursue painting after returning from a voyage to Brazil in 1849.
  • He studied under Thomas Couture but also learned from visiting museums and copying artworks. He enrolled in Couture’s studio in 1850 and stayed there for six years, learning the techniques of academic painting. However, he often clashed with his teacher, who criticized his loose brushwork and lack of finish. He also traveled to Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain, where he admired the works of Frans Hals, Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and other masters. He copied many paintings in the Louvre and other museums, developing his own style and vision.
  • He was rejected by critics and the public for his controversial paintings. He debuted at the Salon, the official art exhibition in Paris, in 1861 with two portraits: The Spanish Singer and Portrait of M. and Mme Auguste Manet (his parents). However, he soon provoked scandal with his paintings that depicted modern life in a realistic and unidealized way. His Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), which showed a nude woman with two clothed men in a park, was rejected by the Salon in 1863 and exhibited at the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected), where it caused outrage for its alleged indecency and lack of perspective. His Olympia, which portrayed a naked prostitute lying on a bed and looking at the viewer, was also rejected by the Salon in 1865 and met with mockery and hostility when it was finally shown in 1867.
  • He was friends with many writers, musicians, and artists who supported his work. He had a close relationship with Charles Baudelaire, who praised him as “the painter of modern life”. He also befriended Émile Zola, who defended him in several articles and novels. He painted portraits of many of his friends, such as Berthe Morisot (who later became his sister-in-law), Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Stéphane Mallarmé, Antonin Proust, Théodore Duret, and others. He also admired Richard Wagner’s music and attended several of his operas.
  • He participated in the Franco-Prussian War and painted some scenes of the conflict. In 1870, he joined the National Guard as a staff officer and fought in the defense of Paris against the Prussian army. He witnessed the siege of Paris and the Commune uprising, which he depicted in some paintings such as The Barricade (1871), The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1868-69), and The Railway (1873). He also painted some still lifes of fruits and flowers during this period.
  • He suffered from a chronic illness that affected his legs and eventually caused his death. He contracted syphilis in his youth, which led to locomotor ataxia, a degenerative disease that impaired his balance and coordination. He had to use crutches and a wheelchair in his later years and underwent several operations to treat gangrene in his legs. He died on April 30, 1883, at the age of 51, after one of his legs was amputated. He was buried in the Passy Cemetery in Paris.
  • He left behind a legacy that inspired generations of artists. He was recognized as one of the most influential painters of the 19th century by his contemporaries and successors. He was admired by the Impressionists for his use of light and color, by the Post-Impressionists for his expressive brushwork and composition, by the Fauves for his bold contrasts and harmonies, and by the Cubists for his simplification of forms and multiple viewpoints. He was also one of the first artists to paint everyday scenes and people, paving the way for modernism and realism.

Works by Édouard Manet