Which Modern Artist Is Better – Monet or Manet?
It would be hard to choose between these giants of modern art
The advent of photography in the middle 1800s gave everyone with a camera the ability to make their own copies of reality. Once this was accomplished, who needed painters? To fill this void, a new art movement came about. The French school of Impressionism gave artists the means to interpret the subject as they saw it, not how it really was. Thus the artist became an inseparable aspect of his or her art, a hallmark in the rise of modern art.
In the introduction to The Story of Art, E.H. Gombrich wrote: “There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.”
As the movement developed in the 1870s, Impressionism highlights spontaneity, sunlight and color, with an emphasis of painting outdoors, right there on the spot, en plein air, as it was described by the French. The Impressionists, as they came to be called, also emphasized the lives of common people, as opposed to that of aristocrats, military leaders or important figures in history, religion or mythology. This was called genre painting.
Many critics derided Impressionism, but the public embraced it.
Two of the giants of French Impressionism were Claude Monet and Édouard Manet. Monet, along with artists such as Sisley, Morisot, Renoir and Pissarro, were considered the purest Impressionists, while Manet stayed on the fringe, his feet firmly planted in Realism; he also refused to stop using black, which the Impressionists eschewed.
Among these killer M’s, if you will, who is better? The impact of both painters is immense, but which giant of modern art has the most influence? That’s the reason for writing this article.
Claude Monet was born in Paris, France in 1840, but he spent his early life near the beaches at Normandy. At the age of 11 Monet began creating charcoal caricatures, which he sold for 10 to 20 francs apiece. When Monet was a teenager, he met fellow painter Eugéne Boudin, who taught Monet to use oil paints. Boudin also taught Monet en plein air techniques for painting.
When Monet moved back to Paris, he soon visited the Louvre, where he saw other painters copying works of the Old Masters. But, rather than do this, Monet opted for painting what he saw outdoors. About this time, Monet met fellow painter, Édouard Manet.
In 1861, Monet joined the Army for seven years, eventually suffering from typhoid fever, until his aunt, Marie-Jeanne Lecadre, now his guardian after his mother had died, helped get him released from military service after only two years. Then his aunt enrolled him in art school. However, Monet didn’t like the curriculum, which emphasized traditional painting. Instead, Monet became a student of Charles Gleyre and also joined forces with painters such as Renoir and Pissarro, forming the nucleus of the movement that came to be known as Impressionism.
With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Monet fled to England, where he studied the landscape paintings of John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner. Interestingly, Turner is sometimes considered the first modern artist.
Then, in 1872, Monet painted Impression, Sunrise, which he showed at the first Impressionism exhibition in 1874. Art critic, Louis Leroy, though "impressed" with Monet's piece, disparaged it nevertheless, coining the term “Impressionism.” About Monet’s unusual work, Leroy wrote, “A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape.”
Of course, the sketchiness of Impressionism is the point! And the movement soon adopted Leroy’s insulting term.
Monet and his family lived in a state of poverty for most of Monet's life until he moved to Giverny in northwestern France during 1883, after which time his dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, began selling many of his paintings, improving Monet’s standard of living considerably. Perhaps because of Monet’s relative wealth, he began working on his “series” paintings, in which a subject was painted during different periods of light, an example of which was Haystacks. Another was Water Lilies, which depicted about 250 oil paintings of the water flora found in Monet’s garden at Giverny.
Late in life, Monet suffered from cataracts, eventually having two operations for the disease, yet he managed to keep painting. Monet died of cancer in 1926 at the age of 86. He is regarded as the most prolific painter of Impressionism. His work sells for millions as well; for instance, Nymphéas, from the Water Lilies series, sold for $36 million USD in 2007.
In 1832, Édouard Manet came into the world in Paris, France. Born to an affluent and influential family, Manet rejected the career in law his father had envisioned for him and instead chose art. In 1845, Manet enrolled in a special course of drawing, at which point he met Antonin Proust, future minister of Fine Arts and eventual long-time friend. When Manet began painting, he copied Old Masters in the Louvre, as many other artists did.
In 1856, Manet opened his own studio. As most of his contemporaries were doing, he painted Realism, as exemplified by the work of Gustave Courbet, who initiated the movement, which rebelled against Romanticism, an emotional style of painting beginning to lose its hold on the art world of the middle 1800s. Two of Manet’s prominent paintings from this era were The Absinthe Drinker (1858-1859) and Music in the Tuileries (1862). Manet’s painterly style was inspired by Frans Hals, Francisco José de Goya and Diego Velázquez.
One of Manet’s most revolutionary works was Luncheon on the Grass (1863), rejected by the Paris Salon, but which Manet then exhibited at the Salon de Refusés (Salon of the Rejected). The painting depicts two fully clothed men with a nude woman sitting next to them. The woman gazes nonchalantly at the viewer. Another nude woman bathes in the background. The painting shows the influence of Old Masters, along with the sketchiness of the avant-garde. The matter-of-fact nudity of the piece outraged much of the French public. Incidentally, Manet’s wife posed for the female nude in the foreground!
At about the same time, Manet paid homage to famous Renaissance painters Titian, Giorgione and Goya, when he created Olympia in 1863. This painting shows a nude, reclining woman, probably a prostitute, or odalisque would have been a much nicer way of describing her. The direct stare on the woman’s face seems to challenge the viewer; this is obviously no modest woman. The painting scandalized many conservative critics, though it had numerous predecessors, particularly The Venus of Urbino (1538) by Titian and The Nude Maja (1800) by Goya. However, members of the avant-garde such as Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin appreciated the painting’s significance.
Manet’s work at this point in his career became known as early modernism, because of the black outlining of his figures, the use of photographic lighting effects, as well as his uneven painting style. In fact, to this day, Manet is often called the first modern artist. But some experts instead point to J.M.W. Turner (1775 - 1851), who once told someone, “Indistinctness is my forte.”
Who’s to say which painter is the first?
Although Manet was considered one of the Impressionists, he resisted that label and only tried plein air painting - what most Impressionists were doing at the time - because friends Claude Monet and Berthe Morisot urged him to do so. An example of this work is the painting, Garden Path in Rueil (1882). Nevertheless, Manet always returned to the studio where he thought serious work had to be done.
In the twilight years of Manet’s life, he painted many café and bar scenes, an exemplar of the latter being A Bar at the Folies-Bergére (1882), the last major work of his life. It depicts a barmaid gazing toward the viewer, perhaps ready to ask, What would you like to drink? In the background stands another barmaid - or the mirrored reflection of the one in the foreground, but only Manet knew for sure what he was trying to show. Manet also signed his name in the label of the beer bottle at lower left, perhaps anticipating product placement techniques in the last part of the twentieth century!
Édouard Manet died in 1883 at the age of 51.
Now, who is better – Monet or Manet? Monet gets lots of points because he was the most prolific painter of Impressionism. Of course, living to the ripe old age of 86 helped him paint for a long time! Also, it was one of Monet’s painting for which Impressionism got its name. As for Manet, he is often considered the first modern artist, a label carrying considerable weight in the world of art history. Moreover, at least some of Manet’s paintings shocked the public, though the value of such controversy is purely subjective in nature.
Since Monet and Manet’s paintings are worth similar amounts of money - that is, tens of millions of U.S. dollars, who would bother to add up the amounts and compare the totals? However, although Monet may be the more popular of the two, Manet seems to have a larger impact on the art world of the present; therefore, Manet is the better of the two.
Eugene Ionesco: “A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind.”
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