Edouard Manet was born in January 23, 1832 into a wealthy Parisian family. His father, a high ranking judge, wanted Edouard to study law and follow in his footsteps. But Edouard refused to choose a respectable career. He wanted to become a painter. Thank god for that! Imagine a world without Manet paintings!
Manet’s uncle, Edmond Fournier, supported Edouards early interest in art and arranged for him frequent trips to the Louvre. However Manet’s father, worried that the family’s standing would be blemished, and he continued to press his son with more suitable career options.
For the sake of his father, Manet attempted a career in the Navy but failed his entry examination (on purpose perhaps??) In fact, he repeatedly failed over the course of a decade, so his father finally acceded and supported his son’s dream of painting.
Manet’s Scandalous Affair with His Piano Teacher
In 1849, Manet had a romantic liason with his family’s piano teacher, Suzanne Leenhoff. Later Suzanne fell pregnant and gave birth in 1852 to a boy named Leon. To avoid a scandal to Manet’s family, they introduced Leon as Suzanne’s younger brother and Manet’s godson. The following year, Manet traveled to Italy to get away from an awkward situation and with an excuse of pursuing his painting.
After Manet’s father died in 1862, Manet married Suzanne. It is unclear though whether Manet was Leon’s biological father!!
Manet’s Unconventional Studies in Painting
Manet was not one to follow convention. Instead of studying at the esteemed Ecole des Beaux-Arts to learn painting, Manet studied under Thomas Couture. Although Couture studied under the Salon system, he encouraged his students to explore their own creative expression, rather than follow what was acceptable in the art world around them. This attitude towards art, spoke to Manet perfectly.
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 Manet Quotes
Manet studied with Couture for six years. In 1856 he left his studies and opened his own studio. He was able to do this only due to the financial support he received from his family. At this stage of his life, Manet translated his Parisian experiences onto his canvases. Manet’s paintings portrayed life in Paris at that time.
At this stage of his life, he met fellow painters, Edgar Degas and Henri Fantin-Latour. These friendships lasted throughout his life.
A Shift from Convention & The Salon Des Refuses
Manet and his contempories believed that art should reflect the modern world and not folklore or history. The Salon and art world opposed these new ideas and scorned these modern artists. As a result, the Salon refused many of Manet’s paintings.
Manet and others artists protested and the Emperor of the Salon acceded by allowing a new exhibition, showing the rejected artworks. This new exhibition in 1863 was called the Salon des Refuses . The rationale behind this exhibition was to show the public all artworks considered unworthy.
Apparently more than a thousand visitors came to see the “refused and rejected” artworks hung in the Salon des Refusés. The journalist Émile Zola reported:
Visitors pushed to get into the crowded galleries where the refused paintings were hung, and the rooms were full of the laughter of the spectators
The art critics and art world scorned the art in this exhibition but the attention inadvertantly endorsed this new form of modern art. Like all the other artists, Manet took the criticism to heart but refused to succumb to social pressure and continued to paint using his revolutionary style of modern art.
More exhibitions of the Salon des Refuses took place in later years, exhibiting many of the paintings of the emerging and not yet acknowledged impressionism artists.
Sharing of Artistic Ideas in Cafe Guerbois
In 1864, Manet lived on Rue des Batignolles. He started in 1866 a twice weekly get together of avant garde artists in Cafe Geurbois. Here they would sip coffee and discuss new art ideas and plan exhibitions.
In the beginning the artists included Henri Fantin-Latour, Edgar Degas, Emile Zola, Felix Nadar, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne. Later in 1986 Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley joined these social meetings. Emile Zola called them The Batignolles Group.
They were a mixture of characters but had a common thread of promoting new artistic styles and techniques. They influenced each other with their regular discusssions and sharing of new ideas. Eventually a new form of art would emerge called the Impressionism Art Movement.
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 -Manet Quotes
Manet & His Messy Relationships with other Female Painters
A friend introduced Manet to the Morisot sisters. Berthe Morisot, a talented painter and unmarried, became his student, friend and model. An attraction developed between the two and there is speculation that perhaps there was a secret liason.
Manet later mentored another upcoming and talented female painter, the young Eva Gonzales…. Apparently Morisot was furious with Manet. She eventually ended up marrying Manet’s younger brother Eugene who was also a painter but without the charm of Edouard Manet. After she married Eugene, they ended their problematic relationship but remained friends. Morisot continued to be a staunch supporter of Manet’s paintings.
Later Years & Final Acceptance of the Salon
In 1810 the Salon finally awared Manet with a 2nd place medal. This important honor granted Manet with a chance to become a permanent exhibitor at all future Salons. Further honors included the Legion of Honor award in 1881.
Manet continued to paint portraits of women, still-lifes, landscapes, and flowers, even when he was unwell and from his bed. Manet died a horrible death at the young age of 51. He was wheelchair ridden from losing his leg to gangrene. It is thought that Manet had a nervous disorder, a complication from syphilis
Manet left his property and estate to Suzanne and obliged her to leave everything to Leon upon her death. Does this confirm that Leon was in fact Manet’s bioligical father????
Manet’s Paintings & Legacy
After Manet’s death, Suzanne and friends worked to secure his memory and legacy. They organized sales of his paintings to art collectors and to the French goverment.
Many art historians believe that Manet is the father of Modern Art and the Impressionism Art Movement. He was a charismatic leader in the Paris avant garde community. In spite of his relatively short artistic career, spanning a little over 20 years, his paintings are hung on the walls in most major international museums and galleries all over the world. He left us with around 420 magnificent paintings! Thank god he never became a lawyer!!
Museums in Paris to view Manet’s Paintings
If you are in Paris, there are some wonderful art museums for viewing Manet’s paintings.
- Orsay Museum Paris (Musee D’Orsay) is truly a major fix if you love impressionism art. This museum shows a wonderful collection of Manet paintings. It is a very popular museum and always crowded. Press here for details of how to best navigate this large and fantastic museum.
- Musee De l’Orangerie (Orangerie Museum) Another magnificent museum in Paris that should not be missed. This museum is famous for Claude Monet’s massive Water Lilies. However it also boasts of a fantastic collection of other famous impressionists including Manet. Click here for more information.
- Marmottan Museum is a very comprehensive museum with a fabulous collection of the Impressionism Art Movement. It showcases over three hundreds paintings, pastels, watercolors and sculptures of the impressionists.
- The Petit Palais is a hidden gem that also houses are wonderful Manet painting.
Other Edouard Manet Landmarks
- When Manet died, he was buried in the lovely Passy cemetery in Paris. It is a beautiful cemetery and also the final resting place of other famous people, including Berthe Morisot. It is worth a visit.
- One of the favorite summer vacation spots of the Manet family was in Fécamp, a beach town in Normandy on the rugged Alabaster coast. It was in Fecamp that Édouard Manet’s brother, Eugene, proposed to Morisot as the two painted side-by-side.
- In Le Havre, go visit the stunning Impressionism museum called Musée d’art moderne André Malraux. It showcases a beautiful Manet painting and has an impressive permanent collection of the impressionists, post-impressionists and the forerunner to impressionism Eugene Boudin.