"Personally, I am not greatly interested in what
is said about art. But if I had to give an opinion, I would put it this way: everything that has a sense of humanity, a sense
of modernity, is interesting; everything that lacks these is worthless."
One of the most famous and influential artists of this Realistic era was Édouard Manet. As great as his work was, he had a remarkably short career as an
artist, only working for twenty-three years. His story begins in Paris, France. He was born there to Auguste Manet, a
Parisian judge, and his wife Eugénie-Désirée Fournier. When he got to the age of selecting a career path, good ol‘ dad
was not too keen on his son becoming an artist. Young Manet looked to join the Navy after dad put the
kibosh on the art plan, but he the entrance exam. Somehow he got a job working on a transport ship that set out for Rio de
Janeiro, Brazil. After about seven months at sea, dad would agree to let him study art. Training began under academic and copyist for the Louvre, Thomas Couture. The six years working under Couture
was quite a negative one for Manet. Wanting some adventure, he begins to travel Europe, speaking with the established
artists (like Eugene Delacroix and Charles Baudelaire) and setting the
ground work to establish himself and an art studio. Monet was also influenced by the paintings he encountered across the continent,
especially in Spain. He truely loved the work of Diego Velázquez, saying, "He's the greatest artist of all." By this point Velázquez was considered a painting legend, but there were other regional greats that we
now respect, that were far less known in Monet's day. On his travels he noted "there
were only two painters, apart from the Master [Velázquez], who attracted me: El Greco...and
Francisco de Goya..." As time passes he gained friendships with other artists as well. One that began as a concern
of identity theft but developed into a life long friendship was with the Impressionist, Claude Monet. He respected monet as a person and as an artist, saying, "He's the Raphael of water..."
Having nine works being accepted into the government sponsored Salon, as well as being awarded an Honorable Mention
during his short career, was a great accomplishment for Manet. He was always interested in keep his art as original as possible
and mixed up his styles and techniques all the time. One thing that remained constant was his drive to paint the human figure.
He refused to accept the idea that you could pain from your mind. If he wanted to paint he had
to have a model. "I can't do anything without a model. I don't
know how to invent...a landscape perhaps, but a figure from memory, never!" The models were also a source of stress. If the work was going to be great, the model had to be as committed to the
work as the artist himself. "Whenever I start
something, I'm always afraid the model will let me down...They come, they pose, then away they
go, telling themselves that he can finish if off on his own. Well no, one can't finish anything on one's own...Look at the
Portrait of George Moore. As far as I was concerned, it was all finished in a single
sitting, but he didn't see it that way. He came back and annoyed my by asking for a change here, something different there.
I won't change a thing in his portrait. Is it my fault if Moore looks like squashed egg yolk and if his face is all lopsided?"
Monet had an idea for a painting that would follow his showing at the Salon the year before.
This work would require three primary figures. He lined up his favorite model,
Victorine Meurent, to be the major character. Other models for the work were his younger brother, Gustave Manet, and his fiancée’s
brother, Rodolphe Leenhoff. What did he want to communicate: he simply wanted to make a painting
about the Parisian’s favorite pastimes. When he submitted the work to the 1863 Salon, he called the work
The Bath, which was later renamed Luncheon on the Grass (Déjeuner sur l'herbe). The work, one of the most recognized works in all of art history, was rejected. People
down right hated it. Why? Well, people saw it as vulgar and indecent. The general rule for showing nudes was that the subject
must be classical; rooting from Greek or Roman mythology, or showing an allegory that would teach
a life lesson. Even though Manet was referencing a Renaissance-like theme (following in the grove of Giorgione Barbarelli da Castelfranco and Raphael
Sanzio) this was not a painting about a goddess or myth. Manet is
painting a modern girl in a modern setting. We see the girl gazing over at us (the viewer of the painting) defiantly in her blunt nudity. A nude with completely dressed modern men. Outrageous!
This was the first time a prominent artist publicly displayed any female figure in this way. Technically, critics tore it
apart for its lack of shadows from the trees above. This removal of the shadows was likely borrowed from the popular images
that came from Japan at this time. Also, because Manet could not replicate light filtered through trees in his studio, he
simply painted it with a spotlight on the central female. We look past the nude and the lighting and get to our final question:
What is this work about? Again, the Parisian’s favorite pastimes: picnicking and prostitution.
That’s they way people rolled in Paris in the 1860’s. Well, as it turned out a lot
of art was rejected in 1863. A group of artists asked Napoleon III for permission to host a second show that year because
of the small number in the official show. He granted permission for the show that was called the "Salon des Refusés." This
show of refused art gave Manet a showcase to display this work to the public. Ironically, the public hated it as much as the
Salon judges. On the positive side, the artists absolutely loved it. Manet made a lot of connections through that experience
and those artists that were drawn to him and his Luncheon on the Grass would
become the core of the Impressionist movement.
After his exhibition at the Salon des Refusés in 1863, Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff on October 28 in Holland. It was somewhat odd that the handsome
bachelor would commit to an older woman with an illegitimate son. The pair met when she was giving him piano lessons. They
had lived together for some three years before deciding to get married. Manet was very close to his parents and had a tough
time moving away from mom, so in 1866 the little family of three move in with his mom after his dad had died. From a financial
point of view, keeping in mind that his family was very wealthy, living at home was a great set up for Manet. It would be
interesting if we could get Suzanne’s thoughts though. Its like the 1860’s version of Everybody Loves Raymond. Anyway, Monet left the house for his various activities in town, visit studios, and hangout in the cafés.
Luncheon on the Grass
1863. Oil on Canvas. 6 feet 8 inches X 8 feet 6½
inches. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France.
Although he failed to get into the Salon in 1863, he had a successful attempt in 1864. The following year was yet another
unique outcome. He was accepted into the Salon, but with another work that would cause an outrage in the art community. This
work was inspired by Titian's Venus of Urbino; a reclining female nude. Again
using his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, but this time playing the role of Olympia. Victorine was a great and extremely professional model. With her as Olympia, the mood was
clam and cool; she was absolutely radiant and radiating with confidence just as she did in Luncheon
on the Grass and hundreds of other paintings she had sat for.
As he worked the painting, even though he wanted to keep the background dark, he made a conscious effort to have it contain
no straight black pigment: “Black is not a color.” Black was always mixed with another color. We can also pick out that there are no hard contour
lines around the images in the artwork. “There are no lines in nature,
only areas of color, one against another.” He creates lines and planes of color by butting
the up to one another and creating layers of paint. "Color is a matter of taste and sensibility. Above all, you must have something to say; otherwise forget
it...A grasp of technique is not enough, there has to be an emotional impulse. Science is one thing but for an artist, imagination
is more important." While on display at the Salon, the work got
some negative critiques because of its content. It is hard for people to get past the nude thing. Manet was a sensitive guy,
but he tried not to mind what other's thought: "I paint what I see, and not what
others like to see."
1863. Oil on canvas. 4 feet 2½ inches X 6
feet 2¼ inches. Musèe d'Orsay,
“You would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone
on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and universal figure and still keep it living and real.” This was the accepted challenge when Monet painted the Fife Player in 1866. In creating this work he took inspiration from his
travels throughout Europe. We can see hints of Diego Velázquez, Francisco de
Goya, Frans Hals, and the very popular Japanese art styles in the work. The Japanese prints
were very collected by artists and higher status people of this time in history. The flattening of the figure floating in
isolation is a very Asian characteristic. This disregard for the rules of perspective caused it to be rejected by the Salon.
1866. Oil on Canvas. 5 foot 2 inches X 3 feet 2 inches. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France.
About the time he had painted Fife Player,
that Manet became friendly with some young artists that were a little outrageous for the times. These new friends that included Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissaro, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Berthe Morisot. They liked to hang out in the Café
Guerbois, where they spoke about art that focused on truly seeing the colors of the world. Manet
had a slightly different approach because he focused on painting people rather than purely nature. As the group became more
tight knit, Manet became greatly respected. His friends
saw him as a elegant and charming man. With his cutting wit,
he was not above speaking out against someone who agitated him. He was also a man that
battled depression and nervousness.
The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870. Manet, being an extremely
patriotic person, with the rank of staff lieutenant he served in the National Guard as a gunner and later fought
in the cavalry. "My paintbox and portable easel are stuffed into my military kitbag, so there's no excuse
for wasting my time and I'm going to take advantage of the facilities available." His studio had been practically destroyed
in the war, but he thought ahead enough to safely store his works. The stored art was later found undamaged. These works were
almost all bought by art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel.
Many people get confused with Manet and assume that because he was friends with the above listed Impressionists, he must
have been an Impressionist. Although they greatly respected him, Manet’s style and working methods were not at all like
the Impressionists, even though his art did very much make a great influence on the Impressionists. He turned down an offer
to exhibit with them in their first exhibition in 1874. He had to keep true to himself. “It has
always been my ambition not to remain consistent, not to repeat tomorrow what I did yesterday, but to respond consistently
to a fresh vision and seek to make it a new voice heard.”
By 1882 Manet’s health begins to drastically decline. His
last truly great work was A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère). For the ninth and last time, his art was accepted into
the official Salon. We have looked at some of his best works, but what is the process? What advice has Manet given us on (still
life) painting? "Get it down quickly. Don't worry about the background. Just go for the tonal values...When
you look at the whole thing, you don't try to count the scales on the salmon. Of course not. You see them as little silver
pearls against gray and pink- isn't that right?- look at the pink of the salmon, with the bone appearing white in the center
and then grays like shades of mother of pearl...The folds will come by themselves if you put them in their proper place. Ah!
Mr. Ingres, there's the man! We're all just children. There's the one who knew how to paint materials!...Above all keep your
colors fresh!.." The following year his left leg is amputated because it was infected with gangrene. Eleven days
later, he passed away from untreated syphilis.
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
1882. Oil on Canvas. 3 feet 2 inches X 4 feet 2½ inches.
Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London, England.
Manet's name became more popular after his death because the venues that exhibited his art became more prestigious. The
more his art was exhibited, the more people enjoyed it and the more galleries and museums wanted to show and own his works.
The interesting fact of the matter is that his finished work is in the minority. Of his 430 known and catalogued paintings,
about two-thirds are copies, sketches, or unfinished (thus making those unexhibitable artworks). "I've
started lots of things that I probably won't be able to finish."
Ten years after his death, Olympia
was finally bought and accepted into the Louvre, after friend Claude Monet
fundraising effort to prevent it from being sold to an American buyer.