Edouard Manet

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Self-portrait with palette.

Édouard Manet (January 23 1832 – April 30 1883) was a French, modernist painter. His early masterworks The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia engendered great controversy, and served as rallying points for the young painters who would later launch the Impressionist movement. Today these two works are considered watershed paintings, which mark the genesis of modern art. As one of the first nineteenth-century artists to approach modern-life subjects, his art bridged the gap between realism and impressionism. The aesthetic of realism was representation. Manet's work served as a transitional step from the older, representational aesthetic to the modern, impressionistic style of painting that more closely mimicked sense impressions. Olympia, in particular, was one of the most scandalous and influential paintings of the mid-nineteenth century. It was shocking not because its subject matter was a nude, but because of the model’s startling and unsettling gaze.


Early life

Édouard Manet was born in Paris. His mother, Eugénie-Desirée Fournier, was the goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince, Charles Bernadotte, from whom the current Swedish monarchs are descended, and his father, Auguste Manet, was a French judge. His father wanted him to also pursue a career in law. His uncle, Charles Fournier, encouraged him to pursue painting and often took young Manet to the Louvre.[1]

From 1850 to 1856, after failing the examination to join the navy, Manet studied under the academic painter, Thomas Couture. In his spare time he copied the old masters in the Louvre. He visited Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, during which time he absorbed the influences of the Dutch painter Frans Hals, and the Spanish artists Diego Velázquez and Francisco José de Goya.

Manet adopted the then current style of realism initiated by Gustave Courbet, painting subjects such as beggars, singers, gypsies, people in cafés, and bullfights. He produced few religious, mythological, or historical paintings, and these mostly in his youth. Noteworthy exceptions include his "Christ Mocked," which currently hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago, and "Christ with Angels," currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


The roughly painted style and photographic lighting in Manet's works was seen as specifically modern, and as a challenge to the Renaissance works he updated. His work is considered 'early modern', in part 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, in part through his sister-in-law Berthe Morisot, who was a member of the group. Eva Gonzalès was his only formal student.

Unlike the core impressionist group, Manet consistently believed that modern artists should seek to exhibit at the Paris Salon rather than abandon it. Though 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 of his disapproval of their opposition to the salon system. Nevertheless, when Manet was excluded from the International exhibition of 1867, he set up his own exhibition.

He was influenced by the impressionists, especially Monet, and to an extent Morisot. Their impact is seen in Manet's use of lighter colors, but he retained his distinctive use of blocks of black, uncharacteristic of impressionist painting. He painted many outdoor (en plein air) pieces, but always returned to what he considered the serious work of the studio. Throughout his life, though resisted by art critics, Manet could number as his champions Émile Zola, who supported him publicly in the press, and Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire, who challenged him to depict life as it was. Manet, in turn, drew or painted each of them.


Manet died in Paris in 1883 of untreated syphilis, which caused much pain and partial paralysis from locomotor ataxia in his later years. His left foot was amputated due to gangrene 11 days before he died. Manet is buried at the Cimetière de Passy in Paris.

In 2000, one of his paintings sold for over $20 million.

Famous works

Music in the Tuileries, 1862.

Music in the Tuileries

Music in the Tuileries is an early example of Manet's painterly style, inspired by Hals and Velázquez, and a harbinger of his life-long interest in the subject of leisure. While the picture was not regarded as finished by some,[1] the suggested atmosphere imparts a sense of what it was like in the Tuileries gardens at the time; one can imagine the music and conversation. Here Manet has included his friends: Artists, authors, and musicians take part; fittingly, there is even a self-portrait.

Luncheon on the Grass

The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe). 1863.

One of Manet's early major pieces is The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe). The Paris Salon rejected it for exhibition in 1863 but he exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the rejected) later in the year. (Emperor Napoleon III initiated The Salon des Refusés after the Paris Salon rejected more than 4,000 paintings in 1863.) The painting's juxtaposition of dressed men and a nude woman was controversial, as was its abbreviated, sketch-like handling – an innovation that distinguished Manet from Courbet. However, Manet's composition is derived from Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving The Judgment of Paris (c. 1510) after a drawing by Raphael.[1]


Olympia, 1863.

As he had in the Luncheon on the Grass, Manet again paraphrased a respected work by a Renaissance artist in the painting Olympia (1863), a nude portrayed in a style reminiscent of early studio photographs, but whose pose was based on Titian's Venus of Urbino (1538). The painting was controversial partly because the nude is wearing some small items of clothing such as an orchid in her hair, a bracelet, a ribbon around her neck, and mule slippers, all of which accentuated her nakedness. This modern Venus' body is thin, counter to prevailing standards; thin women were not considered attractive at the time, and the painting's lack of idealism rankled. A fully dressed servant is featured, exploiting the same juxtaposition as in Luncheon on the Grass.

Manet's Olympia was also considered shocking because of the manner in which she acknowledges the viewer. She defiantly looks out as her servant offers flowers from one of her male suitors. Although her hand rests on her leg, hiding her pubic area, the reference to traditional female virtue is ironic; the notion of modesty is notoriously absent in this work. The black cat at the foot of the bed strikes a rebellious note. Manet's uniquely frank (and largely unpopular) depiction of a self-assured prostitute was rejected by the Paris Salon of 1863. At the same time, his notoriety translated to popularity in the French avant-garde community.[1]

Late Works

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère). 1882. Édouard Manet.

In 1875, a French edition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven included lithographs by Manet and translation by Stéphane Mallarmé. [2]

He painted his last major work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère) from 1881–1882 and it hung in the Salon that year.

Various subjects

Cafe scenes

The Cafe Concert, 1878.

Manet's paintings of cafe scenes are observations of social life in nineteenth-century Paris. People are depicted drinking beer, listening to music, flirting, reading, or waiting. Many of these paintings were based on sketches done 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. 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 a sophisticated gentleman sits at a bar while a waitress stands resolutely in the background, sipping her drink. In The Waitress, a serving girl 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 as well as the eating area. One of the paintings he produced here was At Pere Lathuille's, in which a man displays an unrequited interest in a female diner. In Le Bon Bock, 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

Racing at Longchamp, 1864.

Manet also painted the upper class enjoying more formal social activities. In Masked ball at the Opera, Manet shows a crowd of people enjoying a party. Men stand with top hats and long black suits while talking to women with masks and costumes. It is a crowded atmosphere of an enjoyable activity. He included portraits of his friends in this picture. Manet depicted other popular activities in his work. In Racing at Longchamp, an unusual perspective is employed to underscore the furious energy of racehorses as they rush towards the viewer. In Skating Manet shows a well-dressed woman in the foreground, while others skate behind her. There is the sense of active urban life 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 Paris.


Édouard Manet (portrait by Nadar).

The Prints and Drawings Collection of the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts has a watercolor/gouache (The Barricade) by Manet depicting a summary execution of Communards by Versailles troops based on a lithograph of the Execution of Maximilian. The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian was one of Manet's largest paintings, and judging by the full-scale preparatory study, one which the painter regarded as most important. Its subject is the execution by Mexican firing squad of a Hapsburg emperor who had been installed by Napoleon III. As an indictment of formalized slaughter it looks back to Goya, and anticipates Picasso's "Guernica."

In January 1871, Manet travelled to Oloron-Sainte-Marie in the Pyrenees. In his absence his friends added his name to the "Féderation des artistes." Manet stayed away from Paris, likely until after the Semaine Sanglante, or "bloody week," in which somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 Communards were killed in the brutal repression of Paris Commune.

On March 18, 1871, Manet wrote to his confederate friend, Félix Braquemond in Paris about his visit to Bordeaux, the provisory seat of the French National Assembly of the Third French Republic where Emile Zola introduced him to the sites: "I never imagined that France could be represented by such doddering old fools, not excepting that little twit Adolphe Thiers…." (Some colorful language unsuitable at social events followed). [3]

If this statement could be interpreted as support of the Commune, a short excerpt of the following letter to Braquemond (March 21, 1871) expressed his idea more clearly: "Only party hacks and the ambitious, the Henrys of this world following on the heels of the Milliéres, the grotesque imitators of the Commune of 1793…." He was familiar with the communard Lucien Henry, a former painter’s model as well as Millière, an insurance agent. His disdain for the government was perhaps exceeded only by his disdain for the Communards. "What an encouragement all these bloodthirsty caperings are for the arts! But there is at least one consolation in our misfortunes: that we're not politicians and have no desire to be elected as deputies." [3]


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. Depicting the same street, but this time in a different context, is Rue Monsnier with Pavers, in which men repair the roadway while people and horses move past.

"The Railway," which is also widely known as the "Gare Saint-Lazare," was painted in 1873. The setting is the urban landscape of Paris in the late nineteenth century. A young lady (Victorine Meurent, also the model for "Olympia") sits before an iron fence, alongside a little girl who watches a train pass beneath them. Instead of choosing a traditional view as the background for this outdoor scene, Manet depicts a bold iron fence that spans the painting, with a white cloud of steam as the only evidence of the train. In the distance, modern apartment buildings are glimpsed. This arrangement compresses the foreground into a narrow focus. The traditional convention of deep space is ignored. When the painting 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.” [4]


Manet's Tomb at Passy Cemetery.

Edouard Manet was one of the first radical thinkers of modern art. As a leader of the Impressionist art movement, Manet was largely responsible for the shift from realism to abstraction. Manet altered famous academic pieces of the past using a distinct painting style of bold, black outlines. Manet is especially known for the controversial subject matter of his work, for he did not only change the painting style of the pieces he copied, but he also changed details of the works to give the piece a whole new meaning. Even though Manet was constantly struggling to gain acceptance from critics in order to showcase his works at the respected Paris Salon, Manet never lost sight of the idea that art is not specifically about talent with a paintbrush, but rather talent complemented by a visionary mind.

In 1881, with pressure from his friend Antonin Proust, the French government awarded Manet the Légion d'honneur.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Ross King, The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism (New York: Waller & Company, 2006, ISBN 0802714668).
  2. The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Juliet Wilson-Bareau (ed.), Manet by Himself (Barnes & Noble, 2004, ISBN 978-0760755600).
  4. Édouard Manet Artvee. Retrieved May 5, 2023.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Brombert, Beth Archer. Edouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat. University of Chicago Press, 1996. ISBN 0316109479
  • Cachin, Françoise. Manet Painter of Modern Life. Thames & Hudson, 1995. ISBN 050030050X
  • Cachin, Françoise. Manet. New York: Abrams, 1991. ISBN 0805017933
  • Clark, T. J. The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers. Princeton University Press, 1985. ISBN 0500281793
  • de Leiris, Alain. The Drawings of Edouard Manet. University of California Press, 1969. ISBN 0520015479
  • King, Ross. The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism. New York: Waller & Company, 2006. ISBN 0802714668
  • Neret, Gilles. Manet. Taschen, 2003. ISBN 3822819492
  • Richardson, John. Manet. Phaidon Press, 1992. ISBN 071482755X
  • Wilson-Bareau, Juliet (ed.). Manet by Himself. Barnes & Noble, 2004. ISBN 978-0760755600

External links

All links retrieved February 12, 2024.


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