The Artist Edouard Manet

Born in Paris in 1832, the French painter Edouard Manet is often regarded as a precursor to modern artists. Manet is often credited for bridging the gap from Realism to the more modern movement of Impressionism. A painter of real-life subjects, Manet typically painted café or street scenes that showcased everyday people in times of leisure. Art historians consider his greatest works to be Olympia (1863), The Luncheon on the Grass (1863), and A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1882).

Born to a wealthy and well-known family, Manet was initially meant for a law career according to the wishes of his family. However, he eventually persuaded his father to allow him to study art with the painter Thomas Couture in 1850. After traveling throughout much of Europe and studying the works of important masters, Manet finally opened his own studio in 1856. However, instead of painting works depicting history, Manet directed his works of Realism toward more ordinary scenes like singers, street beggars, Gypsies, or restaurant scenes. Except for some of his early work, Manet’s paintings rarely feature grand religious, historical, or mythological subject matter.

Manet received criticism for paintings that appeared to some as unfinished or sketch-like. However, these paintings offer a connection to Impressionism and Manet went so far as to paint outside occasionally and employ lighter shades of color for some works. However, Manet did not formally ally himself with the Impressionists and preferred to exhibit his work at the Paris Salon instead of at independent exhibitions. Manet’s Olympia caused an uproar at the salon; it depicts a nude courtesan with her servant. Although immensely popular, Olympia was criticized for its frank and bold treatment of female sexuality. Eventually the work would be dubbed a watershed shed painting opening the road toward modern art.

Manet married his former piano teacher, Suzanne Leenhorn, in 1863. She had a child before this marriage believed to be either Manet’s or his brother Auguste’s. Art historians believe she may have been Auguste’s mistress before her marriage to Manet. Manet often painted the boy, Leon, and he is the subject of the famous Boy Carrying a Sword (1861). Manet died of rheumatism and untreated syphilis in 1883 at the age of fifty-one. He had been friends with many painters of his time such as Edgar Degas and Berthe Morisot who would eventually become his sister-in-law. Other famous works by Manet include Boating (1874), Young Flautist (1866), Music in the Tuileries (1862), and The Old Musician (1862).