Edouard Manet (1832-1883) was a French painter who was a key figure in the movement from Realism to Impressionism. Born in Paris to a well-connected and wealthy family, Manet was encouraged by his father to pursue law as his career. Manet’s uncle took him to the Louvre as a young man and encouraged him to follow his dreams of painting. Manet sailed to Rio de Janeiro in 1848 on a training vessel but twice failed the naval examination, after which his father relented and allowed Manet to pursue his art. Manet studied under Thomas Couture from 1850-56 and copied old masters in the Louvre whenever he had free time. He opened his studio in 1856, he had adopted the style of realism and this period of his work is characterized by suppressed tones, loose brushstrokes and simplified details. In many of his paintings, critics have pointed out areas of rough painting and suggest that his paintings were unfinished, to which Manet responded that his goal was to create ``not great art, but sincere art.’’
One of his major early works is The Luncheon on the Grass, it was first rejected in 1863 by the Paris Salon, but Manet later exhibited it at the Salon des Refuses, which Emperor Napoleon III began after over 4000 paintings were rejected from the Paris Salon in 1863 alone. The painting was controversial as it juxtaposed a nude woman lunching amidst the company of fully clothed men, and was considered an affront to propriety. The Luncheon on the Grass breaks stylistically with the era’s academic traditions. Manet’s study of the old masters is apparent in the composition of the piece, the disposition of the main figures comes from the Judgement of Paris, and an engraving by Marcontonio Raimondi based on a drawing by Raphael. Olympia is another work where Manet paraphrased a Renaissance artist’s respected work, having based the pose on Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538). Many elements of this painting are sexual, adding to the controversy it caused. The black cat, bouquet of flowers, orchid and upswept hair were, at the time, all recognized sexual symbols. The depiction of a self-assured courtesan was uniquely frank and unpopular, although the notoriety it generated led to Manet’s popularity in the French avant-garde community. Manet’s lighting techniques and rough style in these paintings is considered specifically modern.
Manet encouraged artists to exhibit at the Paris Salon instead of only at independent exhibitions, but started his own exhibition after being excluded in 1867 from the International exhibition. Manet did not want to be a representative of the Impressionist movement even though his work greatly influenced the style. Manet was influenced by the Impressionists, notably in his en plein air paintings and with his use of lighter colours, but he always returned to the studio, which he felt lent itself to more serious work, and kept his distinctive use of black. Manet painted cafe scenes and more formal social activities, creating lasting observations of that era in Parisian social life, as well as many scenes of the streets of Paris. His last completed work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, shows a woman manning the bar while looking out at her patrons with a disinterested gaze. It shows one of the first examples of product placement with the depiction of Bass Pale Ale on the bar. If the painting is meant to show the reflection of the barmaid and bottles, as some critics suggest, then the view is fairly skewed. A Bar at the Folies-Bergere has been considered a modern paraphrasing of Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas, which is probably accurate as Velazquez’s work and style had a major influence on Manet. Manet died of untreated syphilis at the age of 51 in Paris. Manet is considered by many to be a founder of Impressionism and his paintings a herald of modern art.
"It is not enough to know your craft – you have to have feeling"
"Science is all very well, but for us imagination is worth far more." -Edouard Manet