Edouard Manet, January 23, 1832 (Paris, France); died April 30, 1883 (Paris, France)
Pivotal painter of contemporary urban life; bold contrasts of light; solid color; flat composition; avante-garde innovator; forefather of modernism.
Edouard Manet has long been regarded as one of the founding fathers of modernism. Although he was for a time regarded as one of the impressionists and was a great influence on them, he never showed his work in their independent exhibitions, preferring to make his radical mark within the establishment and seek recognition within the context of Salon exhibitions. Manet was born into a wealthy Parisian family. Although destined to study law, the young Manet showed an early interest in drawing and a love of art. Encouraged by his uncle, Charles Fournier, and his childhood friend, Antonin Proust, he enrolled in the atelier of the innovative and influential teacher Thomas Couture. Manet supplemented his education with visits to the Louvre, where he copied Old Master paintings. He also traveled to Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Italy; he learned a great deal by studying the paintings of Frans Hals, Titian, Giorgione, and particularly Diego Velazquez. By February 1856 he had set up his own studio, and gained some early success: two of his works were accepted in the Salon of 1861 and he won an honorable mention for The Spanish Singer (1860). This early praise was not to last, however. As his style matured, Manet became increasingly concerned with contemporary urban life. He set up home with his family's piano teacher, Suzanne Leenhoff, who later became his wife, and moved within a circle of intellectuals that included poet Charles Baudelaire and novelist Emile Zola. In keeping with his lifestyle, Manet's first major work depicting city life was Music in the Tuileries Gardens (1862). It depicts a fashionable crowd gathered at an outdoor concert and includes portraits of Baudelaire, painter Henri Fantin-Latour, composer Jacques Offenbach, and Manet himself. The work exemplifies Manet's mature technique: a flat and graphic composition painted in thick strokes of color, freely handled paint, bright light set against shadow, a limited palette, and the application of a significant amount of black. Manet and his oeuvre were much appreciated by a new and radical generation of artists, including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, and Berthe Morisot. The establishment frowned upon it, however, and Manet caused scandal and public outrage with the display of two of his works in particular: Le Dejeuner sure l'Herbe (1863) and Olympia (1863). Shown at the infamous 1863 "Salon des Refuses" exhibition of works rejected by the official Salon, Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe became the center of a critical storm - less because of its baffling subject than its style. The contemporary nature of the depicted figures - a naked woman sat with men dressed in modern clothes - and the way the scene mimicked poses from historical artworks shocked and confused many viewers. This reaction upset Manet, yet he persisted with images celebrating Parisian leisure. In later works, he used sketchier brushstrokes and a lighter palette to depict contemporary life.
To know: When first shown at the Paris Salon of 1865, Manet's Olympia - a painting of a reclining female nude - caused outrage. The subject had been common in Western art for centuries, but viewers were horrified by Manet's twist on it. This was no naked goddess of ancient Greece, as found in the work of Titian; nor was she an exotic Turkish bather by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. The public's ire was aroused by the fact that this was clearly a contemporary Parisian courtesan, depicted as such, and self-confidently returning their stares. In their eagerness to savage both artist and subject, the critics repeatedly compared Manet's Olympia to a dead body: "The expression of [her] face is that of being prematurely aged and vicious; the body's putrefying color recalls the horror of the morgue." - Victor de Jankovitz; "That Hottentot Venus with a black cat, exposed and completely naked on a bed like a corpse." - Geronte; "The crowd throngs around Monsieur Manet's gamy Olympia like onlookers at a morgue." - Paul de Saint-Victor; "Her face is stupid, her skin cadaverous ... she does not have a human form." - Felix Deriege; "A courtesan with dirty hands and wrinkled feet ... has the livid tint of a cadaver displayed at the morgue." - Ego.