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Edouard Manet: Carving a niche in art history

This French painter was a pivotal figure in the transition from the Realist to Impressionist art movements. Manet’s 420 paintings inspired young artists during that era. His paintings are considered watershed works that mark the start of modern art.

inspiring-lives Updated: Jan 23, 2020 20:00 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Edouard Manet received the Legion d’honneur, one of France’s highest honours that he had received throughout life.
Edouard Manet received the Legion d’honneur, one of France’s highest honours that he had received throughout life. (ILLUSTRATION: Biswajit Debnath)

Born in Paris on January 23, 1832 to Eugenie-Desiree Fournier, the daughter of a diplomat and Auguste Manet, a judge. Although his father wanted him to pursue a career in law, young Edouard Manet developed the desire to become an artist. . In 1841, he enrolled in the College Rollin secondary school. Four years later, Manet enrolled in a drawing course wherein he met Antonin Proust, who became minister of fine arts and lifelong friend.

At his father’s suggestion, in 1848, the youngster sailed on a training vessel to Rio de Janeiro with a view to join the Navy. He failed the examination, much to his father’s disappointment. The failure prompted his father to allow Manet to go ahead with his ambition to become an artist.


From 1850 to 1856, he studied under the academic painter Thomas Couture. From 1853 to 1856, he visited Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, during which time he was influenced by the works of famous Dutch painter Frans Hals as well as the equally esteemed Spanish artists Diego Velazquez, Francisco Jose de Goya, Titian, Caravaggio, Vermeer and Rembrandt.


In 1856, Manet opened a studio. Adopting the prevalent realist style initiated by Gustave Courbet, he painted The Absinthe Drinker . Most of Manet’s works during the mid-1850s depicted contemporary themes and everyday situations like bullfights and scenes at pavement cafes. In Paris, a prestigious way for artists to introduce themselves to the public is by having their works displayed at Salons. Even though the juries at the Salons were strict and meticulous, the work titled —The Spanish Singer had actually earned Manet an honourable mention.

Music in the Tuileries is an early example of Manet’s style and was inspired by Hals and Velázquez. A major work is The Luncheon on the Grass. The Paris Salon rejected it for exhibition in 1863 but Manet agreed to exhibit it at the Salon des Refuses (Salon of the Rejected), a parallel exhibition.


Manet had paraphrased a respected work by a Renaissance artist in the painting Olympia (1863) whose pose was based on Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538). While Olympia was the subject of caricatures in the popular press, it was championed by the French avant-garde community and was appreciated by artists such as Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and later Gauguin as well as Van Gogh.


In his mid-forties, Manet’s health deteriorated. He developed severe pain and partial paralysis in the legs. He resorted to hydrotherapy to improve what he believed was a circulatory problem but suffered from a side-effect of syphilis.

His last work was A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, which was displayed at the Salon in 1882. Prior to that year, he received the Legion d’honneur, one of France’s highest honours that he had received throughout life.

In April 1883, his left foot was amputated due to complications that cropped up due to syphilis and rheumatism. Eleven days later, he breathed his last in Paris on April 30 and was buried in the city’s Passy Cemetery.


1. Throughout life, Manet would count French novelist, playwright and journalist, Emile Zola as well as poets Stephane Mallarme and Charles Baudelaire among his staunch supporters.

2. The Manet painting Le Printemps (1881) was sold to the J Paul Getty Museum for $65.1 million, a new auction record for Manet. The work exceeding its pre-sale estimate of $25–35 million.

3. Manet maintained that modern artists should seek to exhibit at the Paris Salon rather than abandon it in favour of independent exhibitions. Nevertheless, when Manet was excluded from the International Exhibition of 1867, he set up his own exhibition. Between 1748 and 1890, the Paris Salon was arguably the greatest annual or biennial art event in the Western world.

4. After his father’s death in 1862, Manet married Suzanne Leenhoff in 1863. Leenhoff was a Dutch-born piano teacher who was initially employed to teach Manet and his younger brother piano.

SOURCE:, Wikipedia