“Painters, and especially Édouard Manet, who is an analytic painter,
do not share the masses' obsession with the subject: to them, the
subject is only a pretext to paint, whereas for the masses only the
subject exists." -Emile Zola, 1867
Edouard Manet was a French painter and printmaker who in his own work accomplished the transition from Realism to Impressionism. Manet was one of the first nineteenth century artists to approach modern-life subjects. Edouard Manet broke new ground in choosing subjects from the events and appearances of his own time and in stressing the definition of painting as the arrangement of paint areas on a canvas over and above its function as representation.
Edouard Manet was born into the ranks of the Parisian bourgeoisie on January 29, 1832. His Mother, Eugenie-Desiree Fournier, was a woman high standing and was god daughter of Charles Bernadotte, the Crown Prince of Sweden. Edouard's father, Auguste Manet, was a magistrate and judge. He had high hopes that Edouard would also become a judge but that was not to be. Edourd's uncle, Edmond-Edouard Fournier, gave Manet his first lessons in drawing. Following the advice of his uncle, Edouard Manet studied at the College Rollin, where he enrolled in a special course of drawing. It was here that Edouard Manet met Antonin Proust, future Minister of Fine Arts, and a subsequent life-long friend. Following his father's wishes Edouard Manet went into the merchant marines and in 1848 he sailed on a training vessel to Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately Edouard Manet was unable to pass the navy examination and after failing it twice his father relented and allowed him to study art.
In 1850 Edouard Manet entered the studio of Thomas Couture where he studied until 1856. Edouard Manet was influenced by the old masters, particularly Velazquez and Goya, but Manet reasoned that ones art should reflect ideas and ideals of the present rather then the past. In 1856, Manet opened his own studio. Edouard Manet's style in this period was characterized by loose brush strokes, simplification of details, and the suppression of transitional tones. One of Manet's early paintings was "The Absinthe Drinker" (shown here).It was a painting depicting a debauched and solitary man amongst the shadows of the back streets of Paris. Paintings like the "Absinthe Drinker", and the "Old Musician" (1862), portray a darker aspect of Parisian life which was quite removed from Manet's circle, but nonetheless very real.
Adopting the current style of realism initiated by Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet painted contemporary subjects such as beggars, singers, Gypsies, people in cafés, and bullfights. A major early work of Manet is "The Luncheon on the Grass" or in French "Le déjeuner sur l'herbe" (shown here). 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 had initiated The Salon des Refusés, after the Paris Salon rejected more than 4,000 paintings in 1863. The painting's juxtaposition of fully-dressed men and a nude woman was controversial, as was its abbreviated, sketch-like handling.
In 1864 the official Salon accepted two of Edouard Manet's paintings, and in 1865 he exhibited his painting Olympia, a nude based on a Venus by Titian, which aroused storms of protest in academic circles because of its unorthodox realism. What shocked contemporary audiences was not Olympia's nudity, nor even the presence of her fully clothed maid, but her confrontational gaze and a number of details identifying her as a courtesan. These include the orchid in her hair, her bracelet, pearl earrings and the oriental shawl on which she lies, symbols of wealth and sensuality. The black ribbon around her neck, in stark contrast with her pale flesh, and her cast-off slipper underline the voluptuous atmosphere. Whereas Titian's Venus delicately covers her sex, Olympia's hand firmly protects hers, as if to emphasize her independence and sexual dominance over men. Manet replaced the little dog (symbol of fidelity) in Titian's painting with a black cat, which symbolized prostitution.
Olympia disdainfully ignores the flowers presented to her by her servant, probably a gift from a client. Some have suggested that she is looking in the direction of the door, as her client barges in unannounced. The painting deviates from the academic canon in its style, characterized by broad, quick brushstrokes, studio lighting that eliminates mid-tones, large color surfaces and shallow depth. Instead of a smooth idealized nude, as in Alexandre Cabanel's La naissance de Vénus (also painted in 1863), Manet painted a real woman, whose nakedness is revealed in all its brutality by the harsh light. In 1866 the French novelist Emile Zola, who championed the art of Edouard Manet in the newspaper Figaro, became a close friend of the painter.
Hailed by young painters as their leader, Edouard Manet became the central figure in the dispute between the academic and rebellious art factions of his time. Edouard Manet was soon joined by the young group of French impressionist painters, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cezanne. They were influenced by Manet's art and in turn, influenced Manet, particularly in the use of lighter colors and an emphasis on the effects of light. In his last great masterpiece, "Bar at the Folies-Bergère" (1882), Manet returns again to studio painting, a somber palette and eliminated mid tones. At "Bar at the Folies-Bergere," one is given the impression of participating in the painting.
While the Barmaid occupies the center of the piece, the painting is filled with a menagerie of characters from seated couples to trapeze artists. Glittering chandeliers and electric lights fill the upper portion of the work. Here, as in Dejeuner sur l'herbe, optical contradictions abound. In 1881, under pressure from his friend Antonin Proust, Édouard Manet was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government. If Manet's work seems to be full of contradictions, or to employ a lack of perspective from time to time, then perhaps that was the true reality of Paris in Manet's time.
Always controversial, d Manet sought to record the days of his life using his own unique vision. From beggars, to prostitutes, to the bourgeoisie he sought to be true to himself and to reproduce "not great art, but sincere art." Edourd Manet died, in Paris, on April 30, 1883. He created many watercolors and pastels and 420 known oil paintings.