Who was Edouard Manet?

Against the wishes of his father, Edouard Manet began his career as an artist at the age of 18. From 1850 to 1856 he took lessons with the French painter Thomas Couture.

In his early years Manet studied the old masters in the Louvre. He undertakes study trips to Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.

He was influenced in his painting technique and the motifs of Frans Hals, Diego Velázquez, Titian Tintoretto, Francisco de Goya and Delacroix. Manet follows a Spanish painting tradition, with pictures in dark colors. His motifs in this phase are dominated by alley boys, beggars, coffee house and bullfighting scenes.

Edouard Manet first received attention when his painting “Playing the guitar” (1860) was published in 1861. His painting “The Absinthe Drinker” (1859), which he exhibited shortly afterwards, met with great resistance.

Edouard Manet – A revolutionary of art?

For most of his life as an artist, Eduard Manet experienced rejection by society. Several of his exhibitions were cancelled and provoked a strong reaction from art critics. His art was not understood in his time and was therefore not appreciated. Exceptions are especially younger artists, who want to understand his art and partly venerate him like a martyr. It was only towards the end of his life that Manet found acceptance in Parisian society as a portraitist.

Manet is not an adapted artist, neither to the public, nor to critics or his art colleagues. With his paintings from 1863 “Breakfast in the Green” and “Olympia” he caused public scandals. He does not adhere to the contemporary conventions of nude painting, which only allow “nudity” to be depicted in connection with the “divine”. Both paintings are exhibited in 1863 and 1865 in the Parisian “Salon des Refusés” (Salon of Refusés).

The background leading to the opening of the “Salon des Refusés” is now controversial. It is proven that this exhibition was created as a result of Napoleon III’s initiatives, after the selection criteria of the “Salon des Refusés” in Paris came under criticism. There a jury decides on the permission of each individual painting. The Salon of the Rejected offers space to exactly those artists and their works that are rejected by the jury.

But it is precisely for this reason that many of the rejected works receive special public attention. Manet’s paintings exhibited there also gain social attention and trigger controversies that go far beyond the effects of many works in the Paris Salon.

From 1870 Manet worked closely with Claude Monet. He was inspired by him to paint in the open air. The result is a looser brushwork and more varied themes, in his later works.

Edouard Manet died on April 30, 1883 as a result of a leg amputation.

Edouard Manet – His work

The poet and friend of Manet, Stephane Mallarmé, says about him: “Edouard Manet, and no other is the head of the Impressionist school.

The art school Ecole des Beaux-Arts (“the Salon”) in Paris shaped the concept of art in 19th century France. The painter Dominic Ingres is considered the absolute authority there. He teaches that the most important thing about a work of art is the line and that form and color are insignificant. A dispute arose between Ingres and Delacroix, for whom colors were much more important than drawings. This dispute is also discussed in student circles.

Edouard Manet was the first to make a definitive break with Ingres and his teaching. As a result, he is now seen as a pioneer of the Impressionists, but he did not see himself as an Impressionist and did not want to be one. He consciously distanced himself from important exhibitions of the Impressionists. However, he approaches this style of painting. The young Impressionists and Manet also influenced each other, for example in the use of light colors and the emphasis on the effects of light.

From the line to the color

Manet adopts a direct, daring brush stroke in his painting technique. He was economical with the use of color. Shades of black, gray and beige play an important role in his paintings. He also uses green, yellow and only a few shades of blue and red.

His motifs are taken from everyday life in Paris: elderly beggars, street boys, people in cafés and Spanish bullfighting scenes.

Manet also changes his painting genre, but his main motives remain people. He paints a series of pictures of the sea. There too, current events are his model. He even manages to revive this cliché-laden motif with a relatively small number of pictures.

After a serious illness that ends in paralysis, Manet later devotes himself more to the pastel technique. In the works of this phase his expressive painting style appears clearly.

Famous paintings by Eduard Manet are:

  • “The Absinthe Drinker” (1859)
  • “playing the guitar (1860)
  • “Breakfast in the country” (1863)
  • “Olympia” (1863)
  • “The Battle between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama”, (1864)
  • “The Escape of Henri Rochefort”. Large study, (1880-81)
  • “Blonde woman with bare breasts” (ca. 1878)

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