Monday, 6 May 2013


“I’m a girl from a good family who was very well brought up. One day I turned my back on it all and became a bohemian.” - Brigitte Bardot

Édouard Manet was born into a wealthy family on the 23 January 1832, in Paris, France. His father was a civil servant who wanted Manet to enter into the French navy. However, after Édouard visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, twice on training missions and failing the course, his father accepted that the navy was not the right career for his son. Consequently Manet entered into the atelier of Thomas Couture alongside his good friend Antonio Proust.

Manet worked in Couture’s studio until 1856 at which time he opened his own. Manet then went on to reject the teachings of Couture and worked in his own personal style. Manet did not like to layer his paints and preferred to work from subject matter that was directly in front of him and it was this painting style that went onto influence the Impressionists’ work.

By 1860 Manet was living with his mistress, Suzanne Leenhoff (his family’s piano teacher), who had previously had a relationship with Manet’s father. Manet’s private life was controversial. He finally married Suzanne who had her own child. It is unknown whether Manet was the father or brother of the child; however, he treated the boy as his own.

In the early 1860s Manet submitted a number of paintings, such as “Olympia” and “The Luncheon on the Grass” to the Salon jury. These were unfortunately rejected and the artist was left despondent, due to his belief that an artist had to have their work accepted into the Salon in order to be deemed successful.

In 1868 Manet was introduced to the artist Berthe Morisot and the two quickly became firm friends. Through Morisot, Manet was introduced to the other Impressionists, who he was soon considered to be a leader of although he never joined their art shows.

With the Prussian war approaching Manet joined the army and evacuated his family from the city. During this period his art production came to a standstill. Manet became ill in 1879 and eventually passed away in 1883.

Édouard Manet was an artist who bridged the gap between Realism and Impressionism. During his time Manet considered himself to be a Realist artist and he classed his work as sincere. However, his radical painting style and modern subject matter highly influenced the work of the Impressionists, which has led to him being perceived as the father of Impressionism.

The vast majority of Manet’s paintings depict scenes from daily life, observed on the streets of Paris. His café scenes serve as fascinating windows into the actuality of Parisian social life at the end of the nineteenth century, showing common people waiting, reading, listening to music, drinking, or talking amongst themselves. His paintings were often based on hastily executed sketches of scenes he stumbled upon on the street. The immediacy of Manet’s “alla prima” style was quickly embraced by the younger generation, who later became the Impressionists. The alla prima style meant that a painting did not have to take months to create and allowed artists to paint from difficult to reach viewpoints. This was advantageous for Manet because he preferred to paint from reality rather than his imagination or dozens of pre-worked sketches and study paintings.

In the 1920s many critics were considering Manet’s work to be “pure painting”, fitting in with the Realist ideology. However in 1954 the Swede art critic Nils Gosta Sandblad began to look at Manet’s work as highly modern and having been indicative of future art trends (beyond Impressionism). This idea has carried on until modern times and today Manet is considered by many to have been an artist genius.

The painting above,  “Chez le père Lathuille”, of 1879, in Musée des Beaux-Arts Tournai, shows Manet’s mature style to advantage. The alla prima technique, allowing great immediacy takes us into this intimate scene of a lovers’ assignation in one of the cafés of Paris. The tender moment is observed from the distance by the waiter, who seems to be more interested in the artist rather than the young lovers. The painting is similar to a candid snapshot in this manner. The colours coruscate and the composition is masterly with the strong green vertical beam acting as the fulcrum for the strong horizontal of the white tablecloth. The figures are in perfect harmony, the artist having chosen to keep the formally dressed woman’s face rather obscure (does her stiff pose suggest that she is married? Is this an illicit meeting?), while the casual dress and pose of the man (an artist?) and his relaxed grasp of the full wine glass make one equate him with temptation personified. This is quite the illustration of La vie bohémienne!

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