Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet

French Draftsman and Painter

Born: January 23, 1832 - Paris, France
Died: April 30, 1883 - Paris, France
"I paint what I see and not what others like to see."
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"You would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and universal figure and still keep it living and real."
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"There are no lines in nature, only areas of color, one against another."
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"A painter can say all he wants to with fruit or flowers or even clouds... You know, I should like to be the Saint Francis of still life."
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"No one can be a painter unless he cares for painting above all else."
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"There is only one true thing: instantly paint what you see. When you've got it, you've got it. When you haven't, you begin again. All the rest is humbug."
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"It is not enough to know your craft - you have to have feeling. Science is all very well, but for us imagination is worth far more."
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Summary of Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet was the most important and influential artist to have heeded poet Charles Baudelaire's call to artists to become painters of modern life. Manet had an upper-class upbringing, but also led a bohemian life, and was driven to scandalize the French Salon public with his disregard for academic conventions and his strikingly modern images of urban life. He has long been associated with the Impressionists; he was certainly an important influence on them and he learned much from them himself. However, in recent years critics have acknowledged that he also learned from the Realism and Naturalism of his French contemporaries, and even from 17th century Spanish painting. This twin interest in Old Masters and contemporary Realism gave him the crucial foundation for his revolutionary approach.


  • Manet's modernity lies above all in his eagerness to update older genres of painting by injecting new content or by altering the conventional elements. He did so with an acute sensitivity to historical tradition and contemporary reality. This was also undoubtedly the root cause of many of the scandals he provoked.
  • He is credited with popularizing the technique of alla prima painting. Rather than build up colors in layers, Manet would immediately lay down the hue that most closely matched the final effect he sought. The approach came to be used widely by the Impressionists, who found it perfectly suited to the pressures of capturing effects of light and atmosphere whilst painting outdoors.
  • His loose handling of paint, and his schematic rendering of volumes, led to areas of "flatness" in his pictures. In the artist's day, this flatness may have suggested popular posters or the artifice of painting - as opposed to its realism. Today, critics see this quality as the first example of "flatness" in modern art.

Biography of Édouard Manet

Detail from <i>The Suicide</i> (1877)

Despite receiving countless rejections and non-stop criticism during his lifetime, Édouard Manet (who was never one to follow the status quo) insisted that “One must be of one's time and paint what one sees,” which is exactly what he did; today, his paintings are considered some of the most important works of the nineteenth century.

Progression of Art

Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe (1863)

Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe

As the primary talking point of the Salon des Refusés in 1863, it is fairly clear to see why this canvas shocked the bourgeois patrons and the Emperor himself. Manet's composition is influenced by the Renaissance artist Giorgione and by Raimondi's engraving of the Judgment of Paris after Raphael, but these influences are fractured by his disregard for perspective and his use of unnatural light sources. But it was the presence of an unidealized female nude, casually engaged with two fashionably dressed men, that was the focus of the most public outrage. Her gaze confronts the viewer on a sexual level, but through her Manet confronts the public as well, challenging its ethical and aesthetic boundaries.

Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay

Olympia (1863)


Representing a lower-class prostitute, Manet's Olympia confronts the bourgeois viewer with a hidden, but well-known, reality. Purposefully provocative, it shocked the viewers of the 1865 Salon. Olympia's references to Titan's Venus of Urbino (1538) and Goya's Maja Desnuda (1799-1800) fit easily into the traditional "boudoir" genre, yet they culminate in a rather informal and individual portrait of a woman unashamed of her body. It is popularly thought that Olympia is a pictorial depiction of passages from Baudelaire's famous collection of poems called Les Fleurs du Mal (1857). For instance, Manet rather overtly includes a black cat, symbolizing heightened sexuality and prostitution - a characteristically Baudelarian symbol.

Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay

The Battle of the USS "Kearsarge" and the CSS "Alabama" (1864)

The Battle of the USS "Kearsarge" and the CSS "Alabama"

Since his days as a Merchant Marine, Manet was always fascinated with the sea. This unusual canvas was inspired by text and photographic accounts of the American Civil War battle which occurred off the coast of Cherbourg, where the Union ship Kearsarge sank the Confederate ship Alabama. While there is nothing revolutionary in representing contemporary scenes of ocean battles, the traditional panoramic view is skewed by an elevated vantage point, as if the scene was recorded from the mast of an observing ship. The composition is rather flat with little gradation in color of the ocean to show distance, similar to a Japanese print.

Oil on canvas - Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1867-68)

The Execution of Emperor Maximilian

France was shocked by the execution of Maximilian of Austria, Emperor of Mexico, on June 19, 1867. The politics behind Napoleon III's withdrawal of troops from Mexico also outraged the public. This canvas is clearly a nod to Goya's similar execution scene in The Third of May 1808 (1814). Manet was a devout Republican and was keenly influenced by political events, and here he sought to record contemporary events like a grand history painter, but with his own modern vision. However, the painting's subject matter was too sensitive to be exhibited at the time, especially with the overt implication of Napoleon III's culpability by dressing Maximilian in a sombrero and the soldiers in French uniforms. The Romantic spirit and muted tones create a distinctly somber, yet immediate scene.

Oil on canvas - Kunsthalle, Mannheim

Boating (1874)


Manet painted many works based on his visits to Argenteuil where he and Renoir often visited Monet. The flatness of the background was created by filling its entirety with water, making the boat's shape the painting's only sense of space. Manet often took advantage of the light on the river Seine early in the morning, on his "floating studio" specifically built for this purpose. Evidence of the influence of his Impressionist friends can be seen in the quick, fluid brushstrokes of the woman's dress.

Oil on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1881-82)

A Bar at the Folies-Bergere

This melancholic café scene is undoubtedly Manet's last masterpiece. The Folies-Bergere was a popular café concert for a fashionable and diverse crowd. The lively bar scene is reflected in the mirror behind the central figure, the sad bar girl. Her beautiful, tired eyes avoid contact with the viewer - who also plays a double role as the customer in this scene. Much has been made of the faulty perspective from the reflection in the mirror, but this was evidently part of Manet's interest in artifice and reality. On the marble countertop is an exquisite still-life arrangement of identifiable bottles of beer and liquor, flowers, and mandarins, all of which anticipate the still lifes of his final two years of life.

Oil on canvas - The Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

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Content compiled and written by Ashley E. Remer, Alexandra Duncan

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Édouard Manet Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Ashley E. Remer, Alexandra Duncan
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Jul 2010. Updated and modified regularly
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