Often mistaken as an Impressionist figurehead, Edouard Manet was a master of modern painting who left behind a varied and rich oeuvre. The favourite artist of author Emile Zola, let’s take a look at the key dates of Manet’s career, which was full of growth and scandal!

When Edouard Manet inspires our artists

Edouard Manet in greater detail…

To the sea or to the easel? Both!

Manet, The Absinthe Drinker (1858-1859)

Edouard Manet was born in 1832 to an upper-middle class Parisian family. His primary aspiration throughout his boyhood? To join the navy. These dreams came to a quick halt when he was not accepted into the Naval Academy. This did not stop him from seeking out adventure and boarding a ship to Brazil. During this voyage, drawing became his favourite pastime.

Upon his return to France in 1850, he took drawing lessons from Thomas Couture, one of the most renowned teachers of the time. For six years he worked under Couture’s guidance and perfected his painting techniques by copying masterpieces exhibited in the Louvre.

For the first time in 1859, Manet submitted a painting to the official Salon of the French Academy. It was entitled The Absinthe Drinker. Thought to be too austere and not in keeping with the fashionable aesthetics of the day, it was refused by the jury.

Edouard Manet: in search of independence

With more than 400 works to his name, Edouard Manet is said to be a leader in the Impressionist movement. He, however, insists on being apart from this movement and its artists. He thus claims his artistic singularity and independence. This was partly done by the completion of his Déjeuner sur l’herbe.

Let it be said that Manet clearly embodies an aesthetic revolution in the late 19th century. And for good reason! He completely dissected and broke down the academic standards (which were more so trends) of his time and took great pleasure in depicting scandalous subjects in a realistic contemporary setting.

Édouard Manet, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863)
Édouard Manet, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863) / Via Wikimedia Commons Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863) / Via Wikimedia Commons

Like so many others, his career is tinged with success and turmoil. He was refused more than once at the Salon de Peinture in Paris. Unable to exhibit his work through the traditional avenues, he then turned to the Salon des Refusés. This was a way for artists whose work was not accepted at the Academy to show their masterpieces without the scrutiny of a jury. It was as “underground” as one could be in the 19th century.

Manet and his Olympia scandal

In 1865, scandal broke out at the Paris Salon as Manet’s Olympia was rejected but nonetheless aroused general indignation. How dare this naked woman look at the viewer with such imprudence? Art historians learned that the woman was Victorine Meurent, one of Manet’s favourite models.

Manet, L'Olympia, 1863
Manet, Olympia, 1863

Originally, the primary purpose of this work was not to provoke but to simply recreate reality. “I painted what I saw,” recounted Manet as he justified his painting and its absolute break from the classical style. By depicting a prostitute in a realist manner, he opened the door to non-idealised portrayals, which was not in keeping with the Impressionists.

After several failures but also some great successes at the Salon de Peinture Manet finally found success, rather late in his career. In 1882 he was even made Knight of the Legion of Honour by his close friend Antonin Proust, Minister of Fine Arts.

1890 marks Olympia’s entry into the national collections. It is thanks to the unfailing support of Claude Monet, another long-time friend, that Manet’s masterpiece is once and for all part of the cultural heritage.

Edouard Manet leaves us at the age of 51 due to syphilis and gangrene which were contracted in Rio de Janeiro.

A record-breaking auction

Manet, Spring

The highest price for which a Manet was ever sold at auction is 65 million dollars. This record-breaking sale took place in New York in 2014. The painting Spring was only estimated to sell for $25-30 million.

A first major retrospective was devoted to him in 2011 at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. His work is currently exhibited in more than 50 museums worldwide.