Édouard Manet was born in France in 1832. His father intended for him to have a naval career, but when he twice failed the entrance exam to the naval academy, he was permitted to pursue his love of art instead. He studied under Thomas Couture and copied the Old Masters in the Louvre. He became a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism, though he fell more into the Modernist school.
From 1853 to 1856, he traveled extensively through Europe, and was influenced by the works of Frans Hals, Diego Velázquez and Francisco José de Goya. In 1856 he opened his own studio. Many of his works were displayed in the Paris Salon. His early painting The Spanish Singer caused a sensation. Even though we might consider it very realistic, his brush strokes were looser and less meticulous than previously fashionable.
In 1862, Manet’s father, Auguste, died, and in 1863, he married Suzanne Leenhoff, a piano teacher who his father had hired to teach Édouard and his younger brother. (Suzanne was also likely the father’s mistress. She gave birth to a son, Leon, in 1852. Leon’s father may have been Auguste or even Édouard.) Both Suzanne and Leon modeled for Manet.
In 1863, The Luncheon on the Grass was rejected by the Salon; the portrayal of a nude woman dining with fully clothed men was deemed inappropriate (even though it was inspired by works of the Old Masters). However, the Salon des Refusés (started by Emperor Napoleon III as an option when the Paris Salon that year rejected 2,783 of the offered 5,000 works) was delighted to exhibit it.
In 1865 the Paris Salon accepted Manet’s Olympia, a nude based on Titian’s Venus of Urbino; but unlike Venus, Olympia is a prostitute, not a goddess. She caused quite a scandal at the Salon.
As controversial as these two early masterpieces were, they marked the start of modern art and also sparked the beginnings of the Impressionist movement.
Manet had many friends among the Impressionists, notably Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, and Berthe Morisot. Even so, he resisted placing his work in Impressionist exhibitions, partly because his style really wasn’t all that impressionistic, and also because he preferred the Paris Salon, which the Impressionists eschewed.
Manet was one of the first nineteenth century painters to paint scenes of daily contemporary life. He painted many portraits, some landscapes and still lives, military battles and political scenes. His work includes 430 oil paintings, 79 pastels, and 400 drawings and works on paper. He died in 1883.