“One must be of one’s time and paint what one sees.” Edouard Manet.
Manet was the son of a department chief in the Ministry of Justice. He went to school in Poiloup in 1839, then to the Collège Rollin in 1842 to study drawing. After two years with the navy Manet entered the studio of Thomas Couture in 1850 where he remained for six years. It is during this time that he studied the Old Masters at the Louvre including Velásquez and Ribera. He also made trips to many museums throughout Europe.
In 1859 Manet made his first submission to the Salon, ‘The Absinthe Drinker’ (1859) but it was rejected. Two years later he had a couple of paintings accepted including ‘Le Guitarrero’ (1861), but in 1863 his ‘Déjeuner sur l’herbe’ (1863), thrown out by the Salon, caused a scandal with its perceived base morals, when it was exhibited at the Salon des Refusés. The subject in 1865 Manet’s ‘Olympia’ created another uproar as the officials at the Salon were offended by this portrait of a sexually provocative woman. ‘Olympia’ is flooded with a strong frontal light producing simple tonal contrasts and flattening form and space. Manet regarded the painting as his masterpiece. The controversy he succeeded in causing led Manet to become a figurehead for the avant-garde. He was admired by the other Impressionists but did not spend a great deal of time with them, nor did he exhibit with them. In 1870 Manet served as a lieutenant in the National Guard then left Paris the following year. In 1881 Manet’s health began to deteriorate, yet he managed to produce one of his finest works, ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’ (1882) the following year. The painting brought together many elements from his career, such as the still-lifes, the isolated figure gazing out of the picture and the crowds.
Manet painted a diversity of subjects and was highly instinctive. His studies of the Old Masters can be seen reflected in many of his paintings yet rather than appearing stale and derivative, Manet’s work is always fresh and full of vitality. He was the definitive modern artist, documenting many contemporary scenes throughout his career, yet also showing a continued fascination with the mechanics of art, that is the actual process of painting, and it is this which established him as one of the fathers of early 20th century modern art.