The French painter Édouard Manet was a pivotal figure in the period of transition between Realism and Impressionism. He is most famous for taking his training in realist techniques of the old masters and applying his own personal experience of the modernization that was happening in the city of Paris. Though considered a leader of Impressionism, he never fully embraced the movement, and never exhibited with other Impressionists of the time.
Manet was born in Paris to a wealthy and connected family – though originally pushed towards a career in law by his father who was a prominent Judge, he was able to convince his parents (his mother was goddaughter to the Crown Prince of Sweden) to pursue a career as a painter. He trained at the studio of Thomas Couture, and made his debut with the painting, The Absinthe Drinker (1862), which was representative of his affinity for painting modern-day lifestyles, and often that of the ‘dark-side’ of life.
His techniques are often considered to be ‘in-between’, neither fully Impressionistic, nor Realistic. Although he did not idealize his subjects like the old masters did, he did not give up certain techniques, such as the use of the colour black, which has been rejected by Impressionists for much lighter colours. He committed himself to paint ‘sincerely’, staying true to himself rather than any established group.
Manet led a fairly comfortable life, having been born into the bourgeoisie. He died in Paris in 1883 of syphilis, leaving a wife and son.
Some of his famous works:
La Musique aux Tuileries (1862) - An early work showing Manet’s developing techniques and penchant for painting leisure scenes. Look for his self-portrait hidden in there.
Olympia (1863) – This nude caused quite a shock with its depiction of the woman’s frank sexuality.
The Execution of Maximilian (1867) – Manet often painted the subject of War, reflecting the political turmoil at the time.
Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) – A year before his death, Manet painted this masterpiece, returning to the setting of Cafes.