Édouard Manet and the Birth of Impressionism
Edward Manet was born on January 23rd 1832 in Paris. He came from a family of lawyers and clerks, but young Edward showed no interest in the official path. His uncle introduced him to painting and art in general. In 1848 he enrolled in the Maritime School and began his one-year apprenticeship where unfortunately he did not developed a desire to read books and become a lawyer but instead his only desire when he returned was to become a painter. His father Auguste had no choice but to let go and give his son an artistic education. In 1850, eighteen-year-old Manet began studying in the studio of Thomas Couture, an already well known academic painter.
His artistic individualism quickly reveals itself in his artworks, which manifest itself also in his often arguments with Coutour, who fights realism in art and only idealized, academic compositions.
"When I enter the studio, it seems to me that I am entering the grave," Manet said about his tutor’s atelier.
Manet's art is stripped of the baroque theatricality, pompous gestures and solemn scenes, so typical for romantic academism. For him, only the form, colour, light and shadow count (and will count).
The figures in his paintings are almost the only objects on a painting surface composed of soft coloured and chiaroscuro planes.
Despite objections to his teacher’s art practice, he would not leave Couture's studio until 1856, but only a few of Manet's paintings have survived from this period. Art historians assume that it was destroyed by the artist himself, who wanted to free himself from the influence of the teacher.
There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another.
Developing own technique
After ‘freeing’ himself from the academic rules of his supervisor, in the 1950s, Manet decides to travel and get to know artistic practices around Europe. In 1853 he visited the most important Italian cities: Rome, Florence and Venice, but also main European cities like The Hague, Amsterdam, Dresden, Prague, Vienna and Munich.
"Color is a matter of taste and of sensitivity.”
In 1859, Manet makes the first attempt to present his work to a wider audience.
He sends his painting to the Paris Salon, which in the nineteenth century was a huge opportunity for the further career of many artists. However, the salon was controlled by the Academy, which promoted and appreciated only paintings that met the thematic and style standards imposed by it.
Paintings by artists who did not meet these requirements were often rejected, and so was the painting by Manet Drinking Absinthe (1859) which got rejected due to its "vulgar" subject - the main character here is, after all, a person from the social margin. The jury did not like the sketchiness of the painting and the imprecise drawing (which was in Manet case frequent objection).
However, in France at that time, it was difficult to exist without exhibiting at the Salon, which is why Édouard does not give up and continues to paint. On the wave of his fascination with Spanish culture, Manet paints the picture Gitarrero, to which he was posed by the Andalusian singer Huerta and Dead Toreador inspired by Spanish bullfights. The artist tries his hand once again and sends both paintings to the Salon, which surprisingly are accepted and what's more important receive positive reviews.
Encouraged by his success, he creates new works inspired by Spanish culture and opens his studio in 1862. Real-life for Manet is just beginning.
After his first success, Manet begins exhibiting in art dealer’s Martinet gallery. Where the famous painting Concert in the Tuileries Garden is shown for the first time. Critics ‘stab’ Manet with a pin, saying that what they see in the painting is not a real colour, but a mixture of tints and a caricature of it. Manet, however, was hard to discourage, and his greatest ambition was to get to the Salon once again.
Édouard Manet is sending to the exhibition the famous Breakfast on the Grass, which, as you can already foresee, was rejected by the jury of the Salon.
The audience was irritated by the fact that in this contemporary and genre scene, Manet showed naked, ordinary women next to dressed, ordinary men. He did not comply with the principles of academism, which required a story to be depicted in a painting. After all, Manet did not paint the sensual goddess Venus or the history of Leda, known from mythology, where female nudity would be one hundred percent justified. The painter rejected tradition and stripped the female act of its earlier meanings, making it completely ordinary, and therefore erotic and sexual.
Not only does Breakfast on Grass arouse controversy, so brutal and obscure scenes such as Jesus Mocked by the soldiers or Execution of Emperor Maximilian.
Both mentioned above shocked the audience equally which not only its realistic presentation but also the way he painted it. Using not clear colours and surprising perspectives.
Manet's painting, although it caused a moral scandal shocked not only with its subject matter but also with its artistic form. The painter painted alla prima, that is, without underpainting or drawing, putting the paint directly on the canvas, which was unthinkable at the time and broke all the rules. The painting was accused of being flat, the solids were not modelled, and the light source in the painting was not further specified. The painting was built by Manet only with the help of colour spots, which was against the accepted academic teaching. However, what contemporary critics accused Manet of as huge workshop shortcomings became the gateway to contemporary art, making Breakfast on the Grass the first contemporary painting.
Manet's great defender was the writer Emil Zola, who spoke without hesitation about his art "we laugh at Manet, but our sons are dazzled by his works (...) he is a man who attacked nature, opposed all existing art so far, who can search within himself and does not hide his individuality (...) Manet's place is in the Louvre’
A role of Monet and impressionism
Manet spent the summer of 1874 in Argenteuil with Claude Monet. He saw and appreciated the technique of his colleague painting en plein air with his own eyes. Thanks to these holidays, Manet's palette brightened significantly, and he himself tried to apply the achievements of impressionism in his own work. At that time, a series of paintings depicting Monet and his family are created - in a boat, studio, garden, as well as the painting Argenteuil. Despite the desire to reconcile with the French public, he sends this undoubtedly impressionist painting to the Paris Salon in 1875. Later, he creates a few more impressionistic paintings, such as the Grand Canal or Lingerie, but the fascination with the new trend will not fully survive in the artist's work but will be present for a while.
An unfortunate fall
In the fall of 1878, Manet falls on the street. His feet suddenly refuse to obey him. These are the beginnings of a disease that will ultimately drive him to his grave, but nonetheless, he creates constantly. In March 1883, his illnesses were hard to bear. Left leg gangrene causes doctors to amputate it on April 19. The artist's health deteriorates significantly and he dies on April 30. He was only 51 at the time. His funeral is held on May 3, 1883, and the coffin is carried by Claude Monet and Émile Zola. Most of the impressionist painters attend the funeral. The death of Édouard Manet also coincides with the end of this group. Their seventh collective exhibition is the penultimate joint exhibition. The differences between the members of the group will soon become irreconcilable, and each of them will go their own way.