Édouard Manet

Dates1832 - 1883

History painting, what a joke! There is only one authentic thing: to paint what you see.
--Édouard Manet

Described by his contemporaries as a debonair, charismatic, and sociable man, Manet's artistic portrayal of the kaleidoscopic experience of modern Paris can be seen as a reflection of his personality and interests. For much of his career, Manet's urban subjects and seemingly detached approach to painting produced one scandal after another. He was a profoundly important figure to the development of Impressionism and to the course of art into the twentieth century.

Schooled in the traditional studio of history painter Thomas Couture, and a scrupulous student of Italian and Spanish Old Masters, Manet quickly broke away from convention. He painted Paris's fashionable high society and marginalized poor, the spectacle of the boulevard, café, and racetrack. Answering poet and friend Charles Baudelaire's call for art capturing the epic, heroic qualities of modern life, Manet produced large canvases of contemporary subjects; for example, he depicted the city's down-and-out on a scale once reserved for royal portraiture. Manet was equally provocative in his approach to painting, laying down intense contrasts of light and dark, creating brazenly unmodulated paint surfaces, and asserting the primacy of flattened pattern and color. For these innovations, Manet attracted unrelenting hostility and scorn.

Particularly shocking to the Parisian public was Manet's treatment of the female nude. In the 1860s, the brazen, frank nudity of Le déjeuner sur l'herbe and, most notoriously, Olympia, caused major scandals at the Salon. Manet also sought to revise other traditional genres and created still life paintings, portraiture, and religious scenes. The artist addressed current political events in his paintings and graphic work. Only toward the end of his career--having been warmly embraced by the younger Impressionist painters and their circle--did Manet begin to gain widespread recognition for his achievements.