Edouard Manet: 1832 - 1883
Edouard Manet was born in Paris on January 25, 1832, the son of a wealthy lawyer. On leaving school at the age of 16, he joined the navy. He would have preferred to study painting, however, and in 1850 his father at least allowed him to enroll as a pupil of the history painter Thomas Couture, with whom he remained for six years.
Manet's revolutionary Absinthe Drinker, submitted to the Paris Salon of 1859, was rejected by the jury, though the great Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix protested on his behalf against their decision. In 1861, influenced by Spanish pictures and fasinated by Spanish subject-matter, Manet offered The Guitarist to the Salon. It was accepted, and praised by the poet and art critic Theophile Gautier. Another poet-critic, Charles Baudelaire, was a friend of the young painter, and wrote an article on him in 1862.
At the Salon des Refuses of April, 1863, Manet showed Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), for which nude and clothed figures had posed in the studio. The reaction of the public to this was a mixture of hilarity and indignation. Only one month before, however, an exhibition of Manet's paintings had made a profound impression on Claude Monet, who, with others of the younger, more adventurous artists, began to think of him as a leader. The writer Emile Zola - a champion of these young avant-garde painters - published a series of articles on Manet in 1865, prophesying a place for him in the Louvre.
Manet had been aquatinted with Edgar Degas, with whom he had much in common, since 1862. But he did not really get to know Zola, Cezanne, Monet, or Pissarro until 1866, when he began to join in the discussions at the Cafe Guerbois in Paris. Later, from about 1876, a table was kept reserved for him and Degas and their friends at the Cafe de la Nouvelle-Athenes.
It was partly through Manet's inspiration that the Impressionist movement came about. But despite entreaties from Monet and pressure from Degas, he would not exhibit with the Impressionists at any of the group shows held by them between 1874 and 1886. To Degas's scorn and annoyance he desired only official recognition, feeling - a conviction that he never lost - that the Salon was the proper place for a painter to make his name. To it he submitted his work, often refused, right up to his death. His fear of offending the authorities was such that when, in 1876, he was approached by a group of students from the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts who wished to work under his direction, he declined to take them on.
Nor did he ever adopt the Impressionist manner without reserve. He never abandoned the love of black on which the stark effectiveness of The Absinthe Drinker, his first important picture, had depended. His colorful illusions about Spain were destroyed by a two-week visit to the country in August, 1865. This left him determined to record contemporary Paris with as immediate a realism as that with which Spanish painters like Velazquez and Francisco de Goya had presented the life of their own people. He painted scarcely one more Spanish scene. Instead he put something of Goya's grim Executions of May 3, 1808 into The Execution of Emperor Maximilian. He made several versions of this picture soon after the news of the emperor's death in 1867. It was officially barred from the Paris World Exhibition of 1867, at which Manet, like Gustave Courbet, displayed his paintings in a pavilion of his own. In quite another vein, but again inspired by Goya, was Manet's The Balcony, in 1868. After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, in which he enlisted as a staff officer in the National Guard, he visited Holland and developed a deep admiration for the work of Frans Hals.
Manet's contact with the Impressionists was by no means entirely fruitless so far as his own style was concerned. He met Berthe Morisot, the first woman Impressionist, in 1868. She posed that year for The Balcony, and in 1874 she married his younger brother, Eugene. Through her example Manet's style, from the year he met her, became more highly colored and fluid. In the summer of 1868 he painted some seascapes at Boulogne with a new, freer manner. He was also influenced by Japanese prints, lately discovered by the Paris avant-garde and at one time or another the model of most of the Impressionists. A print by Utagawa Kuniaki can be seen in the background of his Portrait of Emile Zola, shown at the Salon of 1868.
Manet later spent some time painting at Argenteuil on the river Seine outside Paris with Monet, whom he helped out of dire financial circumstances with a loan of 1000 francs in 1878. It was Monet who encouraged him to paint out-of-doors rather than in a studio. Manet's palette brightened steadily from about 1873. In the summer of 1881, two years before he died, he was painting Versailles with the thoroughgoing naturalism of the Impressionists.
With the success of his Dutch-inspired Le Bon Bock at the Salon of 1873, his work had become less difficult to sell. However, when the singer Emilie Ambre took The Execution of Emperor Maximilian with her on a concert tour of the United States late in 1879, only the American press was enthusiastic. There was no response from the public, and the canvas had to be taken back to France. In April of the next year Manet held a one-man show in Paris at the offices of the review "La Vie Moderne." At the 1881 Salon he was awarded a second class medal.
All in all Manet was a disappointed man, and his health was failing. Nomination to the Legion of Honor in 1882, too late to be of any real encouragement, only aggravated his bitterness.
Yet despite this, he painted at the end of his life the picture that many consider to be his masterpiece, The Bar at the Folies Bergeres, 1882. In the spring of 1883 his left leg was amputated. Gangrene set in, and he died in Paris on April 30, 1883. The next year a large memorial exhibition was held at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and his reputation began to rise.
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