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Edouard Manet
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Described as “the man who invented modernity,” Édouard Manet was one of 19th century France’s greatest artists and had a significant impact on the course of Western art. Born in Paris in 1832 into a prosperous middle-class family, he received his secondary education at the Collège Rollin, where he met Antonin Proust (1832-1905), who would be a life-long friend and later Minister of Fine Arts. After spending spent a year in the navy but failing to gain entry to the Naval College, his parents permitted him to pursue an artistic career. Manet entered the studio of Thomas Couture (1815-1879) in 1850, where he stayed for six years. That year Suzanne Leenhoff (1830-1906) became his mistress; they were married in 1863. Couture encouraged strong modeling through light and dark contrasts, and copies Manet made at the Louvre, after Velazquez, Titian, and Rubens among others, nurtured a painterly style of rich color and bold brushwork. Like the realist painters, Manet chose his subjects largely from modern life. His first submission to the official Salon in 1859, The Absinthe Drinker (RW I 19; Copenhagen: Ny Carlsberg Glyp.) was rejected, but two of his works were accepted for the next Salon in 1861. Manet began making prints in 1860; he published a lithographic caricature (H.1) of the politician Emile Olliver (1825-1913) that year. He made forty of his approximately 105 prints during the period 1860-1863. He was among the founders of the Société des Aquafortistes (Society of Etchers) organized by the publisher, printmaker and gallerist Alfred Cadart (1828-1875) and his etching The Gypsies (H. 18) was one of five etchings published in the first set of prints published by the Société in 1862. Cadart also published a portfolio of eight Manet etchings that year. In 1863 one of his paintings created great controversy. Manet’s Dejeuner sur l'herbe (1863, Paris: Musée d'Orsay) was among the many paintings rejected for the 1863 Salon but was exhibited (along with the other rejects) at the Salon des Refusés, where it was criticized both for the subject matter (two nude women with two fully clothed men at a picnic) and his painting technique. The next year Manet may have seen the American Civil War naval battle between the Kearsarge and the Alabama near Cherbourg, which he depicted in a painting (1864, Philadelphia Museum of Art). Manet’s Olympia (1863, Paris: Musée d'Orsay), a realistic nude, caused another huge critical storm when it was exhibited at the 1865 Salon. A series of paintings on Spanish themes culminated with a trip to Spain in 1865 and firsthand study of works by Velazquez and Goya. At the time of the 1867 Exposition Universelle, Manet held a private exhibition in a near-by pavilion, which helped solidify his leadership within the avant-garde. The writers Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Theodore Duret (1838-1927), and Emile Zola (1840-1902) supported him critically. Manet met Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) in 1868. She posed for Manet’s The Balcony (1868, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) with the violinist Fanny Claus (1846-1877) and the painter Jean Baptiste Antonin Guillemet (1843-1918), a painting that provoked great controversy when exhibited in the 1869 Salon. It was the first of eleven portraits Manet painted of her. By the end of the decade Manet and Morisot had become close friends and working colleagues as well, each influencing the other. Manet began painting more out-of-doors, in response to Morisot’s suggestions, and his work became lighter and more colorful. Manet served in the National Guard during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, but joined his family in the Pyrenees to avoid the Commune. He depicted the horrors of the Commune in two lithographs The Barricade (1871, H. 71) and Civil War (1871-73, H. 72), two of the many lithographs he produced from 1868 to 1874. Despite his friendships with many of the Impressionist artists, Manet maintained hope for acceptance at the official Salons and never contributed to the Impressionist exhibitions. Success came in later years with numerous commissions and portraits. By about 1879, however, he began to feel the debilitating effects of syphilis, which would eventually contribute to his death. His health deteriorated in the succeeding years. Thanks to his friend Proust, then Minister of Fine Arts, Manet was made a member of the Legion of Honor in 1881. Manet’s left leg was amputated on April 20, 1883 and he died ten days later. In addition to his prints, Manet left an oeuvre of about 430 paintings, 90 pastels and 600 drawings. 179 of his works were shown in a retrospective exhibition at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1884. (TNB 11/2013) Selected bibliography: Cachin, Françoise, Moffett, Charles S., and Melot, Michel. Manet 1832–1883. Exhibition catalog. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983. Guégan, Stéphane. Manet: The Man Who Invested Modernity. Exhibition catalog. Paris: Musée d’Orsay and Éditions Gallimard, 2011.