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Edouard Manet Paintings – Snapshots of 19th Century France

Édouard Manet was a famous Realism and French impressionism painter in the 19th century. Like the other impressionism painters, Manet often painted with loose brushstrokes, leaving out minor details in the subject matter but giving an ‘impression’ of the scene. Although Manet was a central figure in the impressionism art movement, he sometimes painted in the more traditional and detailed style of realism.

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.Edouard Manet Quote

Manet – An Upper-Class Boy With a Bohemian Soul

Edouard Manet grew up in an upper-class family. However, he rejected his father’s expectations that he become a military man . Rather than enter the navy as expected of him, Manet decided to become an artist. However, even as an artist, Manet broke all the rules. Many of his paintings scandalized the French art world and the Paris Salon.

Like most of the impressionists, Manet’s paintings focused on everyday scenes. Manet loved capturing moments in Paris cafes and nightclubs, as well painting snapshots of the upper class French society.

Manet’s impressive art career started in 1850 when he started studying art and lasted 33 years, until his death in 1883 at the age of 51.

Edouard Manet painting - Self Portrait
Edouard Manet Self Portrait

When Manet died, he left behind around 430 oil paintings, nearly 90 pastels, and more than 400 paper artworks. Below is a list of five notable Edouard Manet paintings, the stories behind them and the art museums that own them.

Five Beautiful Edouard Manet Paintings That You Should Know!

1. Olympia (1863)

Edouard Manet’s painting Olympia was exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon in 1865. It caused such a scandal that it required two policemen to safeguard the canvas.

The nude model was a French artist herself, Victorine Meurent. In this painting the model is in the nude, which was OK. But it’s her unapologetic and provocative stare, the flower in her hair, her pearl earrings, the oriental shawl on which she lies, that outraged the viewers. Manet hints that perhaps this woman is an unashamed courtesan or prostitute.

Olympia - one of the most famous Edouard Manet paintings
Olympia Painting – by Edouard Manet

With this painting, Manet indeed rebels against the 19th century art establishment. Manet followed all the rules (technically) of The Paris Salon. However, he slighted changed their meaning and thereby shocking and challenging the art world with this painting.

Today, this painting is considered one of Manet’s most famous paintings. You can view it on the walls of the prestigious Musee D’Orsay in Paris.

The author, Drema Drudge, was inspired by this iconic painting & wrote a wonderful historical fiction novel about Manet & his muse Victorine Meurent. Check it out.

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2. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882)

Édouard Manet completed the painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère in 1882, just a year before he died of syphilis at the early age of 51.

This painting depicts a barmaid at the Folies-Bergère, a still existing cabaret club located in Paris, a little south of Montmartre.

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is more realistic than impressionistic because of the fine details he captures in the scene. The barmaid is a real person, called Suzon, who was indeed working at the Folies-Bergère bar in the early 1880s.

In this painting, you can view the busy scene of the nightclub through the reflection of the mirror behind the barmaid. You can also see through the reflection that she is talking to a man in a top hat and mustache, although he is not present when viewing her front on.

A Bar at the Folies Bergère - Edouard Manet Painting
A Bar at the Folies Bergère – Edouard Manet Painting [Public Domain]

This encounter is ambiguous. Is she serving him a drink or is she also a commodity that can also be bought with the drink? Is Manet depicting this sordid reality of 19th century Paris?

Another hint of this questionable encounter are the presence of oranges in a bowl in front of her. Larry L. Ligo, an art historian, says that Manet sometimes used fruit to symbolize prostitution.

Is this painting perhaps a sleazy snapshot of Parisian nightlife? Is the reflection of the mirror maybe suggesting the double life of the high-society men and the complexities of the working class woman?

This very famous Manet painting is hanging on the walls of the Courtauld Gallery in London.

3. The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, (1874)

In the late 1860s, Edouard Manet was a huge fan of Claude Monet and the impressionism art movement. By 1874, Manet started adopting the impressionism technique of painting en plein air, setting up an easel outdoor and painting the view before him.

In the summer of 1874, Manet stayed at his family’s house in Gennevilliers, just across the River Seine from Argenteuil, where Monet and his family lived. Monet & Manet were good friends.

This impressionism painting is a snapshot of the Monet family in their garden – Camille (Monet’s wife) and their son Jean are sitting on the grass. Claude Monet is gardening on the left.

Apparently on this very same day that Manet was painting the Monet family, Renoir turned up. He asked Monet for a canvas, paints and brushes and started painting alongside Manet.

Manet whispered to Monet “He (Renoir) has no talent, that boy! Since you are his friend, tell him to give up painting!”

Which painting do you prefer? Manet’s or Renoir’s?

The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil
The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil by Edouard Manet painting
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s version of the same scene (but without Claude Monet)

4. At the Café-Concert (1879)

The Café-Concert is another impressionism style painting by Manet, capturing the Paris cafe scene and social life in the late nineteenth century.

Edouard Manet portrays three central figures. However, they are oblivious of one other.

When this painting was first exhibited in 1880, the critics applauded it for its truthful commentary of Parisian nightlife. Again, Manet portrays how women on the fringes of society (perhaps prostitutes?) mixed freely with high class gentlemen in nightclubs and cafes. 

Famous Edouard Manet painting "at the cafe"
At the Cafe – Edouard Manet Famous painting

Other viewers who saw this painting found it crude and confronting as Manet honestly portrays the issues of morality and gender roles during this period.

You can view this painting in The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

5. A Bunch of Asparagus (1880)

This is a gorgeous still life painting and the story behind it is delightful!

The wealthy French art collector Charles Ephrussi commissioned this still life painting for 800 francs. When Ephrussi received this painting, he was so pleased that he paid Manet 1000 francs instead.

Manet was touched by Ephrussi’s generosity and his satisfaction with the painting. So, Manet decided to paint for Ephrussi a smaller painting (now called A Sprig of Asparagus) .

Manet sent Ephrussi the second painting as a gift with a humorous note saying: “There was one [sprig] missing in your bundle”.

Bunch of Asparagus is showing at Wallraf Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany and A Sprig of Asparagus is hanging on the walls of the Musee D’Orsay in Paris.

One of the Still Life Asparagus Edouard Manet Paintings
Edouard Manet Still-life Paintings
One of the Still Life Asparagus Edouard Manet Paintings
A Sprig of Asparagus – Edouard Manet Painting

For more information about the lesser known 19th century Impressionism painters, see the articles below.