Édouard Manet (1832-1883) was a 19th-century French painter who played a pivotal role in the transition from Realism to Impressionism.
Born in Paris to a high-ranking judge and a diplomat, who raised him in the hope he would become a lawyer or enter another high-level profession, Manet instead fell into the art world, supported by his uncle who helped arrange trips to the Louvre.
His father persuaded him to try his hand at seafaring. In 1848, at the age of 16, Manet boarded a Navy ship bound for South America — only to return and fail his naval examinations. After repeated tries still yielded no results, Manet’s parents relented and eventually began to support his art dreams.
The young man studied under Thomas Couture and mastered the fundamentals of drawing and painting. He continued to sneak off to the Louvre to imitate the old masters. He then traveled for three years throughout Europe to take in the works of other acclaimed painters, including Diego Velázquez and Francisco José de Goya.
After six years of studying, Manet established his own studio in 1856, where he painted “The Absinthe Drinker.” Though he found success with Realism, he began to experiment with less restricting genres, including Impressionism. Compositions included figures from the street, such as buskers, gypsies, and beggars.
One of Manet's most famous works is “The Luncheon on the Grass” (1863), which shows two young men seated next to a female nude. The piece caused a stir. The Paris Salon rejected it because of the juxtaposition of a nude woman next to two fully dressed men. It accepted “Olympia,” another famous work also dated from 1863, but which created a scandal because of its frank sexuality. Both paintings raised the issue of prostitution.
Manet exhibited "The Luncheon on the Grass" at the Salon of the Rejected the following year.
Unlike many of the Impressionists, Manet never sought to abandon the traditions of the Salon for independent shows. Nevertheless, after the International Exhibition of 1867 shunned him, he decided to host his own show.
He funded the project himself. The overall critical reception was poor, but it let Manet met several new friends, including Edgar Degas. Berthe Morisot, the grand-niece of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, convinced the artist to try en-plein-air painting. She became his sister-in-law when she married his brother, Eugen in 1874.
As Manet moved further into Impressionism, he maintained his atypical use of dark hues. He often painted outdoors but always returned to the serious mood and ambience of his studio.
Though his work often met with resistance from critics, he had strong supporters throughout his life.
Manet died at the age of 51 in 1883. He is buried at the Cimetière de Passy in Paris.