Born into a cultivated family, Edouard Manet convinced his father to allow him to study with the painter Thomas Couture. He completed his education with visits to the Louvre and trips to Holland and Italy.
In 1861, he exhibited The Spanish Singer at the Salon, which won him his first success. In 1862 he exhibited Music in the Tuileries, which depicts the crowd at an outdoor concert, caught in a moment as if by the snap of a camera. To most critics and the public, this picture seemed too casual for a serious painting, its sketchlike brushwork and seemingly random composition unpleasantly chaotic.
The public’s annoyance became outrage the following year at the Salon des Refuses of 1863. This event had been organized, with the approval of the emperor Napoleon III, to exhibit paintings rejected by the official Academy Salon. Manet presented Picnic on The Grass, a painting of two contemporary French gentlemen in afternoon dress seated nonchalantly on the grass in a park, in the company of a completely nude woman. What Manet had apparently thought of as an updating of the pastoral art of Giorgione and Titian was taken by many observers as a voyeuristic, even mildly pornographic, insult to serious art.
Reluctantly, Manet found himself a leader of a group of young artists who had broken with the official Art establishment. Two years later his work became the focus of another controversy when he exhibited Olympia at the Salon. In this painting Manet dared to depict a nude woman, not in an antique setting but in contemporary surroundings, staring boldly out at the viewer without a shred of embarrassment. As with Picnic on the Grass, public and critics were ill at ease with nudity presented without idealization, and they denounced the painting for its “vulgarity.”
Disappointed by the incomprehension of public and critics, Manet left France for Spain, where he studied the works of Velazquez. In The Fifer, he achieved a synthesis of his Spanish models. Here the figure is set against a solid gray ground; the artist has refused all relief effects and half-tones, playing with the contrast between light and dark colors.
Excluded from the Universal Exposition of 1867, Manet erected a pavilion of his own opposite that of Courbet. The works he exhibited were harshly criticized, but they won the admiration of many younger artists. Despite the criticisms, Manet continued to try to exhibit at the official Salons, refusing to participate in independent exhibitions, including the first Impressionist one organized by Monet in 1874. Nevertheless, Manet and Monet became good friends, and Manet even spent his summers near Monet’s home at Argen- teuil. Indeed, Monet’s influence seems to have induced Manet to lighten his palette.
Manet devoted his last years to painting scenes in popular restaurants and cabarets. In 1879 he began his final masterpiece, the Bar at the Foties- Bergeres, exhibited at the Salon of 1882. This remarkably complex tour de force multiplies mirror reflections around the central figure of a barmaid, who remains aloof from the spectacle unfolding around her.
Article courtesy of ‘The beginners guide to Art’ , translated from the French by John Goodman, ediited by Brigitte Govignon. The article was brought to you by Blue Horizon Printing, experts in quality canvas prints.