French Draftsman and Painter
Summary of Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet was the most important and influential artist to have heeded poet Charles Baudelaire's call to artists to become painters of modern life. Manet had an upper-class upbringing, but also led a bohemian life, and was driven to scandalize the French Salon public with his disregard for academic conventions and his strikingly modern images of urban life. He has long been associated with the Impressionists; he was certainly an important influence on them and he learned much from them himself. However, in recent years critics have acknowledged that he also learned from the Realism and Naturalism of his French contemporaries, and even from 17th century Spanish painting. This twin interest in Old Masters and contemporary Realism gave him the crucial foundation for his revolutionary approach.
- Manet's modernity lies above all in his eagerness to update older genres of painting by injecting new content or by altering the conventional elements. He did so with an acute sensitivity to historical tradition and contemporary reality. This was also undoubtedly the root cause of many of the scandals he provoked.
- He is credited with popularizing the technique of alla prima painting. Rather than build up colors in layers, Manet would immediately lay down the hue that most closely matched the final effect he sought. The approach came to be used widely by the Impressionists, who found it perfectly suited to the pressures of capturing effects of light and atmosphere whilst painting outdoors.
- His loose handling of paint, and his schematic rendering of volumes, led to areas of "flatness" in his pictures. In the artist's day, this flatness may have suggested popular posters or the artifice of painting - as opposed to its realism. Today, critics see this quality as the first example of "flatness" in modern art.
Biography of Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet was born into an upper-middle-class Parisian family. His father, August, was a dedicated, high-ranking civil servant and his mother, Eugenie, was the daughter of a diplomat. Along with his two younger brothers, Manet grew up in a bourgeois environment, both socially conservative and financially comfortable. A mediocre student at best, he enrolled at thirteen in a drawing class at The Rollin School.
Important Art by Édouard Manet
As the primary talking point of the Salon des Refuses in 1863, it is fairly clear to see why this canvas shocked the bourgeois patrons and the Emperor himself. Manet's composition is influenced by the Renaissance artist Giorgione and by Raimondi's engraving of the Judgment of Paris after Raphael, but these influences are fractured by his disregard for perspective and his use of unnatural light sources. But it was the presence of an unidealized female nude, casually engaged with two fashionably dressed men, that was the focus of the most public outrage. Her gaze confronts the viewer on a sexual level, but through her Manet confronts the public as well, challenging its ethical and aesthetic boundaries.
Representing a lower-class prostitute, Manet's Olympia confronts the bourgeois viewer with a hidden, but well-known, reality. Purposefully provocative, it shocked the viewers of the 1865 Salon. Olympia's references to Titan's Venus of Urbino (1538) and Goya's Maja Desnuda (1799-1800) fit easily into the traditional "boudoir" genre, yet they culminate in a rather informal and individual portrait of a woman unashamed of her body. It is popularly thought that Olympia is a pictorial depiction of passages from Baudelaire's famous collection of poems called Les Fleurs du Mal (1857). For instance, Manet rather overtly includes a black cat, symbolizing heightened sexuality and prostitution - a characteristically Baudelarian symbol.
Since his days as a Merchant Marine, Manet was always fascinated with the sea. This unusual canvas was inspired by text and photographic accounts of the American Civil War battle which occurred off the coast of Cherbourg, where the Union ship Kearsarge sank the Confederate ship Alabama. While there is nothing revolutionary in representing contemporary scenes of ocean battles, the traditional panoramic view is skewed by an elevated vantage point, as if the scene was recorded from the mast of an observing ship. The composition is rather flat with little gradation in color of the ocean to show distance, similar to a Japanese print.