Impressionist Artists: Edouard Manet - 5 Interesting Facts
Édouard Manet, one of many French Impressionist painters, was born in 1832 to a wealthy, aristocratic family in Paris. His father was a Parisian judge and his mother was the goddaughter of the Crown Prince of Sweden, Charles Bernadotte. His father expected and hoped he would follow a career in law, but he was instead taken under the wing of his uncle, who helped him pursue a career in painting. In order to placate his father he attempted to join the navy but failed the examinations twice, and finally his father relented and gave him his blessing to go to art school.
The Execution of Maximilian by Edouard Manet
Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe by Edouard Manet
5 Interesting Facts about Edouard Manet
1. In 1852, at the same time that Manet was studying to become an artist, the streets of Paris were undergoing a massive regeneration, both physically and culturally due to the increased demands from the growing population, and the government's desire to increase the population. Many of the medieval buildings were being torn down, the streets were widened and lengthened in a bid to be seen as modern vibrant city in order to attract immigrants. This reflected and complimented Manet’s views on art; that it should depict the modern world rather than teach about the past.
2. Many of Manet’s pieces were regarded as being too controversial on first publication in Paris. It was every painters aim to have their works accepted by the Salon, but they rejected what is now considered one of his most famous paintings, ‘Dejeuner sur l’herbe’ (Luncheon on the Grass) as it was believed to be politically suspect due to the naked woman picnicking with two men. Manet fought for the National Guard in the Franco-Prussian war, and his feelings about the war are represented in several paintings. “The Execution of Maximilian” was considered controversial and was banned from display in Paris since one of the executioners was said to look like a Frenchman.
The Absinthe Drinker by Edouard Manet
Le Bar aux Folies-Bergere
Olympia By Edouard Manet
3. Although Manet is commonly believed to be the leader of the Impressionist painters, a lot of his earlier work does not have the characteristic Impressionist traits. It would probably be closer to the truth to describe him as a leader or pioneer of a new modern phase in art, rather than specifically Impressionist. Manet was interested in potraying contrast in his paintings, so while he was keen to capture the light, it was only so that he could juxtapose it against great blocks of light. It was only after spending time around the other painters (especially Claude Monet) that he began to paint more in their style. Consider the difference between ‘The Absinthe Drinker’ (see above) and ‘Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère’ (see above).
4. While Manet was never keen on historical art, he seemed to be drawing a lot of inspiration from the Renaissance artists. In fact, he appeared to be re-creating many of their paintings but bringing them up to date. There are two main examples of this: The first is Raphael’s Judgement of Paris (this is an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi after the original was lost) and if you compare this to Manet’s ‘Dejeuner sur l'Herbe’ (see above), you can see that he has been heavily influenced by this even though the subject matter is different. Raphael’s depicts a scene from Greek mythology while Manet’s appear to be fairly innoculous people. The second example, I think is a lot clearer. Here we are comparing Titian’s Venus of Urbino with Manet’s Olympia (see below). Here the subject matter is similar while the background has changed. It’s ironic how the paintings that were based on well established pieces of art were some of Manet’s most controversial.
5. In 1883, at the age of fifty-one, Manet died of untreated syphilis, which he’d lived with for several years. Eleven days before his death he had to have his left foot amputated due to gangrene, most likely caused by the syphilis. He also suffered from locomotor ataxia (spinal atrophy) which is a deterioration of the spinal cord meaning that he became partially paralysed and lost muscle coordination. He most likely would have been in terrible pain right up to the day he died.
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