Édouard Manet was a French painter. One of the first 19th-century artists to approach modern and postmodern-life subjects, he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. His early masterworks, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) and Olympia, engendered great controversy and served as rallying points for the young painters who would create Impressionism. Today, these are considered watershed paintings that mark the genesis of modern art.
Born in Paris, his father expected Édouard to pursue a career in law while his uncle encouraged him to pursue painting. In 1845, he enrolled on a special course of drawing where he met Antonin Proust, future Minister of Fine Arts and subsequent lifelong friend. After he failed twice to join the Navy, his father relented to his wishes to pursue an art education. From 1850 to 1856, Manet studied under the academic painter Thomas Couture. From 1853 to 1856 he visited Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, during which time the Dutch painter Frans Hals influenced him, and the Spanish artists Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya.
In 1856, Manet opened a studio. His style in this period was characterized by loose brush strokes, simplification of details and the suppression of transitional tones. Adopting the current style of realism initiated by Gustave Courbet, he painted contemporary subjects such as beggars, singers, Gypsies, people in cafés, and bullfights. Manet had two canvases accepted at the Salon in 1861.
When The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) was rejected Manet exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Rejected). The painting was controversial partly because the nude is wearing some small items of clothing such as an orchid in her hair, a bracelet, a ribbon around her neck, and mule slippers, all of which accentuated her nakedness, sexuality, and comfortable courtesan lifestyle.
His work is considered 'early modern', partially because of the black outlining of figures, which draws attention to the surface of the picture plane and the material quality of paint. He became friends with the Impressionists Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro. Manet became the friend and colleague of Berthe Morisot in 1868. She is credited with convincing Manet to attempt plein air painting, which she had been practicing since she was introduced to it by another friend of hers, Camille Corot.
Unlike the core Impressionist group, Manet maintained that modern artists should seek to exhibit at the Paris Salon rather than abandon it in favor of independent exhibitions. Nevertheless, when Manet was excluded from the International Exhibition of 1867, he set up his own exhibition. Although his own work influenced and anticipated the Impressionist style, he resisted involvement in Impressionist exhibitions, partly because he did not wish to be seen as the representative of a group identity, and partly because he preferred to exhibit at the Salon. He painted many outdoor (plein air) pieces, but always returned to what he considered the serious work of the studio. Manet's paintings of cafe scenes are observations of social life in 19th-century Paris but Manet's response to modern life included also works devoted to war, a subject that may be seen as updated interpretations of the genre of "history painting".
In his forties Manet contracted syphilis, for which he received no treatment. He also suffered from rheumatism. In April 1883, his left foot was amputated because of gangrene, and he died eleven days later in Paris. He is buried in the Passy Cemetery in the city.
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