Christ as a Gardener by Edouard Manet
Christ as a Gardener by Edouard Manet
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(1832-1883) I French


Édouard Manet's influence in the evolution of art is undeniable, marking a pivotal transition from Realism to Impressionism. As a paragon of versatility and a preeminent figure before the likes of Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Manet was instrumental in portraying everyday scenes and figures with revolutionary dignity. His works, notably Déjeuner sur l’Herbe, not only provoked controversy but also solidified his role as a vanguard in the late 19th-century art scene.

Personal Background

Born in Paris on January 23, 1832, to a family of affluence, Édouard Manet's path seemed predestined for a career in law, mirroring his father's appointment as a French judge. However, an early exposure to art, through his uncle's guidance and visits to the Louvre, redirected his passion for painting. This passion, bolstered by academic challenges, propelled him towards art, bolstered by two failed attempts to join the French Navy. Once his father allowed him to pursue art, Manet eagerly began studying the Old Masters and the great portraitists in art history. His admiration for the works of Frans Hals laid the foundation for his artistic journey, fostering a unique blend of realism and avant-garde technique.

Early Career: Realism and Controversy

Initially, Manet's work was characterized by its loose brushstrokes, simplified details and a bold departure from the meticulous renderings of his contemporaries. His early acceptance into the Salon of 1861 with portraits of his parents and a Spanish singer showcased his unique approach, albeit drawing criticism for what some perceived as laziness The rejection of The Luncheon on the Grass by the Salon led to its iconic display at the Salon des Refusés, where Manet's depiction of unabashed sex workers challenged societal norms and established him as an avant-garde maverick.

Impressionist Influences and Independence

Despite his close association with the Impressionists, through connections like Berthe Morisot and participation in the Batignolles group, Manet maintained a distinct identity. His engagement with en plein air painting and the Impressionist circle influenced his work, yet he never fully abandoned Salon exhibitions, reflecting his independence and refusal to be confined to a single movement.

Illness and Introspection

The deterioration of Manet's health in his mid-forties led to a shift towards small-scale still lifes, a poignant reflection of his battle with syphilis. These later works, focusing on fruits and vegetables, showcase a more introspective Manet, still echoing his lifelong commitment to portraying the essence of his subjects.

Legacy and Later Life

Manet's oeuvre, comprising 430 oil paintings, 89 pastels and over 400 works on paper, remains a testament to his pioneering role in modern art. His unique painterly style and portrayal of society's fringes were revolutionary, all beautifully presented by his unique brushwork and mastery of color and light. Almost every serious collection of Western Art has a Manet— they are among the most valuable and prized artworks of the 18th century.

Fun Facts about Manet:

A Secret Son: In 1849, Suzanne Leenhoff, was employed by Manet’s parents to teach piano to their sons, Édouard, 17, and Eugène, 16. Suzanne gave birth to an illegitimate son, Leon Édouard Koella, in 1852; "Koella" is suspected to be a fabricated name. Leon was raised believing he was Suzanne's younger brother, a belief he held until just before she died in 1906 when she legally recognized Leon as her son to secure his inheritance.

A Love for Music: Beyond his passion for painting, Manet had a deep appreciation for music, influenced by his wife Suzanne, a skilled pianist. This love for music is evident in several of his paintings that feature musical instruments or scenes from concerts.

Influence of Japanese Art: Like many artists of his era, Manet was influenced by Japanese art, which was introduced to France in the mid-19th century. The use of flat areas of color and emphasis on linear contours in his work reflect this influence.

Legion of Honor Controversy: Despite his significant contributions to French art, Manet was only awarded the Legion of Honor, France's highest order of merit, shortly before his death in 1883, a recognition many felt was long overdue.