Édouard Manet (1832.01.23-1883.04.30), one of the founders of 19th century Impressionism, was born in Paris in 1832. He never participated in the Impressionist exhibitions, but his deeply innovative attitude towards art profoundly influenced the emerging painters such as Monet, Cézanne, and Van Gogh, and thus brought the painting to the path of modernism. Influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e and Spanish painting, Manet boldly adopted vivid colors and abandoned the traditional middle tones, freeing the painting from the traditional constraints of pursuing three-dimensional space. His representative works include The Bar at the Folies Bergere, Le Chemin de fer, Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, Spring, and Olympia.
Manet was born in Paris, the son of the French judge who wanted Manet to study law or become a naval officer. In 1848, at 16, Manet worked as a trainee sailor on a ship bound for Brazil, where the charm of nature evoked his passion for depicting its beauty in color and line. In 1850, at the age of 18, Manet entered the studio of the Parisian classical painter Thomas Couture to study painting. He studied there for six years, received strict basic painting skills training, and gained solid modeling skills, but he was dissatisfied with Classicism. During this period, he often went to the Louvre to observe the works of the masters of all dynasties and traveled to Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Belgium. With his independent opinions, he acquired a fresh and solid artistic accomplishment that was difficult to obtain in the studio.
In 1851, the 19-year-old Manet participated in the revolutionary uprising. He sympathized with the Paris Commune uprising and was elected to the Commune's Union of Artists, all due to his loyalty to freedom and romantic passion. He opened a new era in painting when he turned his entire life and passion for freedom into art.
In 1861, at the age of 29, Manet came to prominence in the Paris painting circle when he exhibited The Spanish Singer at the Salon. His paintings had the basis of classical forms and an expression of bright and vivid, light and color. In 1863, Manet exhibited The Luncheon on the Grass at the Salon des Refusés, which caused uproar in Paris and was criticized by Napoleon III. Zola, on the other hand, supported him in public. Manet had always blended his paintings with classical nobility and gorgeous Impressionist colors. In the same year, Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff, a Dutch-born piano teacher hired by Manet's father to teach him and his brother to play the piano. In 1867, Manet held a solo exhibition to fight against the official Salon that refused to accept his work, and in 1882 the Salon exhibited his last work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, which was very successful. Manet was ill at that time and said, "It was too late." On April 30 of the following year, Manet left his beloved world of light and color forever.
Fame brought by The Luncheon on the Grass
In 1863, Manet took a bold step that would influence him throughout his life: he exhibited The Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe ) at the Salon des Refusés. This work placed a nude woman and two clothed men together. At that time, people were only allowed to paint nudes when they represented the gods in myths and stories, so the official Salon rejected this painting. It was also wildly criticized by other painters because most painters of that period followed the conventional painting method, while Manet's painting departed from the traditional painting method and painted it with his own unique perspective and innovative technique. Critics also criticized his paintings, saying that his paintings had no chiaroscuro, the figures had no three-dimensional sense, and the spatial relationship was messy. The judges and the public thought Manet's painting style was just an unqualified grandstanding, only worthy of showing his works in the Salon des Refusés. The painting looked like a preliminary sketch, not a finished work. What puzzled the critics most was the half-crouched woman in the background, as in terms of spatial relationship, the half-crouching woman was a giant compared to the three people in front of her. All this made the official academy unbearable. However, The Luncheon on the Grass caught the eye of a group of young, motivated artists looking for inspiration at the time, and among those who expressed their approval was the young Claude Monet. Monet saw in Manet's paintings a new way of expression. Soon after, Monet began to create his own Luncheon on the Grass.
Controversy of Olympia
Another work exhibited in 1865, Olympia, was also controversial for its deviant art form. Conservatives opposed and ridiculed the painting so much that it was banned, and Manet was forced to flee to Spain. The nude woman in the painting was a prostitute. Along with the white bed, the clothes of the black maid, the black cat with fried hair at her feet, and the stick flowers in her hands, she appears bright and prominent in the dark background.
Victorine Meurent, the model for Olympia, was a very important woman in Manet's life, and she was the muse of Manet's art. When painting this painting, Manet said, "I want you to lie down and examine the viewer, not have them judge you." At this time, Meurent's entire being became a weapon for Manet to declare war on tradition, Classicism, and academics. We see the young girl as if she is condescendingly scrutinizing the audience, who is merely the object of observation, evaluation, and contempt. This was very shocking and disturbing to those middle-class people, those who were pretentious and clad in the cloak of high cultural upbringing. Another reason for the unpopularity of Olympia is the black cat in the painting, knowing that black cats are usually considered a symbol of evil and misfortune.
Manet's artistic achievements are mainly reflected in figures in oil paintings. He was the first to bring the light and color of Impressionism into figure painting so that his works have both the solid shape of traditional painting and the bright, vivid and light-filled color of Impressionism. Unlike most Impressionist painters who rejected black aesthetics, he was very good at using black. Black is like the timpani in a band, making the colors stand out and have their own place throughout the picture.
Edouard Manet died on April 30, 1883, of syphilis and rheumatism, which caused pain and partial paralysis. His left foot was amputated due to gangrene, and he died 11 days after surgery at the age of 51. In 1883, Manet was buried in the Passy Cemetery in Paris. Many people attended his funeral. Edgar Degas said, "Manet was greater than we imagined."